“Trolls” is a gorgeous film! Troll Village is caked in rainbows and glitter, every little detail of which is vivid. The area resembles that of a pop-up book both in texture and tone. The texture is smooth and silky, seemingly made out of soft yarn. Plants, grass, and even the spiders are fluffy and inviting; the perfect companion piece to the village’s carefree demeanor! Every nook and cranny pops, just as it would in a pop-up book. Or, in the case of one of the film’s protagonists, Poppy (Anna Kendrick), everything pops like it would in one of her scrapbooks.
Contrarily, Bergens Village is awash in misery and gloom. The area resembles that of a goth teenager’s diary, drowning in greys and black to represent despair and isolation. Every nook and cranny slinks, with the architecture looking as if it’s about to collapse at any given minute. Everyone is depressed, their songs meekly muttered whilst going about their daily routine of reservation. The only thing to bring them happiness is the Trollstice, the one day of the year where they gorge on Trolls.
Thanks to King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor), Trollstice has remained dormant for nearly twenty years after he retreated his species to higher ground. His daughter, princess-to-be Poppy, fears no evil, spending her days as if she were in a Nick Jr. reality show: singing, dancing, and hugging. Branch (Justin Timberlake), the resident grump, fears all evil, specifically that Poppy’s naïve exuberance will reveal their location and doom them all. His fears are realized when Poppy’s naïve exuberance reveals their location and gets them captured, the main course for the Trollstice revival. I assure you the message of the film isn’t that the pessimist is always correct…even though the pessimist was correct in this instance.
What ensues is a standard order rescue fable replete with combative love interests, numerous pratfalls, peppy music, cheeky humor, a smorgasbord of pop culture references, and an uplifting message. Said message is what you’d expect it to be: that true happiness comes from within, not from materialistic endeavors (making the Happy Meal tie-in with McDonald’s hilariously ironic). Everything is as you’d expect, with no real surprises to be had. That’s perfectly fine for a film like this, as it doesn’t need to subvert the formula in order to be successful (though that certainly wouldn’t hurt).
Where my issue lies with “Trolls” is in that the direction is on autopilot. Mike Mitchell falls back on pop culture references and sight gags too often, rejecting a chance to be creative with the world. While “Trolls” has been in production since 2010, the current iteration is by no surprise inspired by the success of “The Lego Movie,” what with crafting unique worlds and colorful characters from a popular brand name. It’s slightly disappointing to see so little done with the material past its key elements. The director coasts when he should be soaring, with Erica Rivinoja’s screenplay not adding much fuel to the fire. Both are content with setting up the world, sprinkling in some sight gags and references, topping it all off with sentimentality and calling it a day. They weren’t even clever (or inspired) enough to name of the Bergens “Rob Bergendy.” For shame! I’d be curious to see what Anand Tucker’s direction would’ve been like.
Nevertheless, “Trolls” is a cute and breezy watch. While it may scrape by with the bare minimum in the story department, there is enough charming moments to keep the production afloat. Running gags centered on scrapbooking, glitter bombs, and Branch’s overall grumpiness never fail to elicit at least a chuckle. One gag in particular, involving a frying pan and nefarious spiders, got a hearty laugh out of me and my nephews. Sight gags are where this film shined the most; more of a focus on them as opposed to pop culture references and familiar tunes would’ve been appreciated.
Speaking of which, the soundtrack is an erratic affair. The pop songs, for the most part, are implemented cleverly, such as in renditions of “The Sound of Silence” to mock Branch’s crotchety attitude and “Hello” to exaggerate one character’s hopeless romanticism. The original music, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Much like the direction and screenplay, composer Christophe Beck scrapes by with the bare minimum, dishing out simplistic songs about happiness and sorrow. He all but gives up halfway through, supplanting the soundtrack with nothing but recognizable pop songs. The lackluster musical numbers could at least be attributed to the naivety of the trolls, but that doesn’t excuse the soundtrack itself, which is almost non-existent. The music should pop like the atmosphere, not disappear into the background. What’s the purpose in tacking on low-key melodies to such vibrant surroundings?
The supporting characters and villains also leave a lot to be desired, though they’re at least durable enough to anchor the story on. King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is the manipulable leader of the Bergens, his craving to finally taste a Troll being the catalyst that the banished Chef (Christine Baranski) needs to get herself back in the village’s good graces. The trolls trick the dimwitted King via the affections of his secret admirer, Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), a half-baked scenario cooked up solely to act as a gateway to the finale.
The other Trolls are cute but forgettable. Creek (Russell Brand, doing his best George Harrison impression) is a free-spirited soul with ulterior motives. Biggie (James Corden) is lovably aloof, always carrying around a teddy bear-like trinket that occasionally speaks. DJ Suki (Gwen Stefani) plays music (that’s about it). Cooper (Ron Funches) is warmhearted and sarcastic; also a bit aloof. Guy Diamond (Kunal Nayyar) is coated in glitter, spraying it profusely throughout. Any other characters that exist didn’t leave enough of an impact on me to recall them.
While the supporting characters may be forgettable, the protagonists aren’t. The charm of Peppy and Branch mixed with their cogent chemistry goes a long way in making “Trolls” durable. Our endearment for them helps carry the audience through the slower, formulaic moments that otherwise falter due to weak gags. Their blossoming romance is believable, resulting in a heartwarming scenario near the finale. They even bring about a good musical number from Christophe Beck; a miracle!
“Trolls” may never reach the heights of “The Lego Movie” or even attain the lofty aspirations it sets out for, but it’s a buoyant experience regardless. The dazzling animation and endearing protagonists alone make it worthy of a recommendation. I just hope they get a bit more creative for the next installment.
Final Rating: B-