‘Trolls World Tour’: good-natured, trippy pop garbage
Gorgeous, gaseous, and goofily good-natured, Trolls World Tour is a tripping-balls visual extravaganza tethered to a leaden kumbaya plotline. Heavy-metal queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) wants to take over the Troll Kingdom and consolidate its balkanized states of various musical genres into One Troll Nation Under Rock. The threat is monoculture; the salvation is a rhythmic multi-culti bliss-out. There, I just explained a plot that took five screenwriters to craft.
The popular Gjøltrold that filled dime-store shelves and airport gift shops in the ’60s and ’70s first made their improbable screen debut in a 2016 wide-eyed kid’s flick ingeniously entitled Trolls. Still neon-haired but not as buck-naked as the fist-sized plastic toys, the updated characters were somewhat unlike the souvenir gag gift but still far from their grotesque Scandinavian progenitors.
These Hollywood variants also followed their own schtick, tossing out all that rich, fertile lore about the longstanding magical creatures and creating a new mythos centered around regularly timed bouts of singing, dancing, and hugging. Also, there’s felt. Everything is made of felt. No good reason, really, that’s just the way it is. Plus, the main character likes to scrapbook with felt. Which is an odd material to use for scrapbooking, but OK fine.
TROLLS WORLD TOUR ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Walt Dohrn
Written by: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Elizabeth Tippet, Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Run Funches, Kelly Clarkson, Anderson Paak, Sam Rockwell, George Clinton, Mary J. Blige
Running time: 91 min
The first movie starred a princess named Poppy (Anna Kendrick), who teamed up with dour survivalist Branch (Justin Timberlake) to defend themselves against a repulsive, chronically unhappy race of troglodytes called Bergens. Those miserable folk would eat the trolls annually, convinced it was their only way to taste happiness. But then they learned a lesson: they don’t need trolls. Happiness comes from within.
In the sequel, now-Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick), again teams up with dour survivalist Branch (Justin Timberlake) to defend themselves against the repulsive, chronically unhappy race of genetic relatives called Rock Trolls. They are convinced it’s their only way to taste happiness. But will they learn a lesson, too? About another type of salvation coming from within? You can guess, but the answer is yes.
Here’s another factoid: Apparently, all these music-minded trolls subdivide into Techno, Funk, Country, Hard Rock, Classical, and Pop. Each tribe possesses one of six strings from some ancient lyre, from which all music originates. This is according to an ancient felt Torah.
If, by the way, you’re someone who enjoys jazz, blues, salsa, reggae, ska, rockabilly, or swing, then buzz off. Trolls World Tour chooses its limited music genres like an out-of-time Sam Goody store. Even more distressing for a movie that emphasizes differences, it ghettoizes the black musical experience into only one genre: Funk. That said, the Funk Trolls live in an Afro-Futuristic flying saucer called Vibe City, and their King and Queen are George Clinton and Mary J. Blige. But still. Even worse: Latinx voices are relegated to reggaetón, and they don’t even get a town. Just a quartet of bounty hunters.
Also bounty hunters? A K-Pop girl group. Even though the Pop Trolls sing Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” Which I guess doesn’t qualify as K-Pop, even though it’s literally the biggest K-Pop song ever? So why are the K-Pop girl band relegated to being bounty hunters? They literally have “Pop” in their name. That’s the problem with Trolls World Tour. The more you think about it, the less its internal logic holds together.
The real message of Trolls World Tour is: “Differences don’t matter.” Also: “Denying our differences is denying the truth of who we are.” Wait, what? As one character says: “Trolls is trolls.” Although another character says: “Let everyone be what they want to be.” Great, that clears it up.
Don’t overthink it, just feast on all the eye candy. A pet worm’s near-death experience involves an icing-bedazzled Heaven. Porcupine death machines and flare-gun fireworks adorably reference Mad Max: Fury Road. There’s even a Smooth Jazz hallucination with tropical drinks, a narwhal and enough white tigers to make Joe Exotic smile. Does anyone fart glitter? No, but someone does poop out a birthday cake, right down to the lit candles. Maybe Trolls World Tour is a kid’s movie. Or maybe Universal Studios is actually just trolling us.