Trolls (2016) – Movie Review
Directed by: Mike Mitchell & Walt Dohrn
Written by: Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Christine Baranski, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Zooey Deschanel & Russell Brand
Music: Christophe Beck
Release Date: October 21st 2016
The story surrounding the creation of the Trolls as a mini multi-media empire is actually more interesting than the fiction that surrounds the brand. Created by Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam for his daughter when she was being bullied at school for not being able to afford actual toys, the “Good Luck Troll” quickly became a local success with parents wanting to buy the Trolls for their children. It soon became a relatively large family business that spread across Europe but Dam’s concept was stolen by massive American toy companies when he made a paperwork error filing for copyright, allowing cheap imitations to flood the market and severely impact his company; Dam Things.
Now look me in the eye and tell me that there isn’t a cool movie to be made from that true story.
But, due to America’s obsession with merchandising and multi-media opportunities, the Trolls have always been ubiquitous in the West headlining numerous TV shows, video games and even being present in big-screen movies like ‘Toy Story‘. Now, the home of ‘Shrek‘ and ‘Kung Fu Panda‘, Dreamworks seek to turn the Trolls into their next big-screen franchise and they’re bringing on big-name talent to do it, such as Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick as well as the creative team behind ‘Shrek Forever After‘. Is this the start of a successful new franchise for Dreamworks or should Hollywood finally purchase my spec script for ‘The Dam of Wall Street‘?
Years ago, there were two opposing races; The Trolls and the Bergen. Once a year, the Bergen would celebrate “Trollstice” where they would eat their captive Trolls as it was the only thing that would make the otherwise depressed race happy. But one Trollstice, the Trolls were able to escape and re-build a civilisation in hiding. Now, Princess Poppy (Kendrick) and the rest of the trolls leave in peace and always hold parties, sing, dance and hug with one Troll named Branch (Timberlake) paranoid that the Bergen will find them once again…which is exactly what happens when the Troll-Cooker Bergen named Chef (Baranski) kidnaps most of them to re-start Trollstice. It’s up to Poppy and Branch to find the kidnapped Trolls and save their kind from being eaten once again.
‘Trolls‘ is a tough movie to review because while it doesn’t do anything particularly terrible, it’s also hard to sing its praises. A lot of that comes from the fact that the Trolls “franchise” doesn’t really have any distinguishable elements in order to draw from with an adaptation. If you were to adapt the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” you’ve got four main characters with distinguishable personalities, an extensive rogues gallery, supporting characters and lots of stories to adapt from the comics or TV shows. The Trolls have no such back-catalogue and the only thing that sets them apart is their visual design, most notably their hair.
On the one hand, this could be a benefit to the creative team as they could create any story that they wanted and inhabit the world with entirely original concepts. However, ‘Trolls‘ decides to go with a solid, if completely unoriginal plot and cliché formulas that even the kids in the audience will have seen dozens of times before. The opening 30 minutes showcases the original world that has been created for the Trolls, but for the 2nd and the 3rd act the movie takes a turn into the generic and stays in the home-land of the Bergen in order to do a “Help the insecure girl get a date” movie.
No, seriously THAT is the actual plot of ‘Trolls‘ and there’s a reason the marketing hasn’t even remotely hinted at it. Because it’s boring and cliché and could have existed without any ties to the Trolls-brand.
But let’s focus on that first act because that’s where most of the good material comes from, mainly because the production design feels so vibrant and inspired. It’s unabashedly cutesy-poo overload but the non-Troll creature designs are fun, the fuzzy aesthetic is charming and it’s easy to just sit back and bask in the visuals. The movie opens with a story-book chronicling the story of how the Trolls were able to flee from the Bergen. The backstory outlines a rather strange drug-metaphor where the Burgens were only ever able to be happy by consuming Trolls. Without the Trolls, they become depressed and they’re a natural opposite to the Trolls because they’re no good at singing or dancing or partying.
But then the movie ends by encouraging the Burgen to sing, dance and party really well. It feels like such a narrative cheat to OPEN the movie by establishing the rules and the final resolution completely contradicts it.
There is a slight twist concerning a double-cross that is the sole aspect of the movie that counts as a surprise, but other then that you know exactly where the plot is going to go, there’s nothing challenging about it and…it just feels like ‘Trolls‘ has had zero ambition outside its production values, music and cast. It’s a cast that are perfectly fine with Anna Kendrick being the stand-out as well as well as a genuinely good singer as Princess Poppy and Justin Timberlake as Branch makes an ideal contrast to her happy, naive, optimistic attitude but we’ve seen this dynamic before. It almost seems impressive when the movie seems to only portray a friendship between these two instead of a romance, but then a love-story comes right the hell out of nowhere and it ONLY exists because the lyrics of one of the licensed-songs they sing includes the words “I love you” and it’s treated like a huge bombshell. It’s like the writers didn’t mean for it to be a love story but it only happened because a song they selected strong-armed them into it.
Speaking of the songs, more than half of it is licensed pop song covers with lyrics slightly changed. We’ve got “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper, “Move Your Feet” (“Feet” changed to “Hair”) by Junior Senior, “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire, “Hello” by Lionel Richie and more. It’s not a bad selection, but nothing truly original and outside the box. The musical stand-out is actually the original stuff. No doubt you’ve heard “Can’t Stop The Feeling” by Justin Timberlake which is an actually a pretty fun pop-song but the highlight is “Get Back Up Again” written by Pasek and Paul and performed by Anna Kendrick. It’s a catchy and entertaining song performed during a montage of Princess Poppy travelling across the land, suffering numerous, comical hardships. ‘Trolls‘ doesn’t excel in many regards but that sequence does go above and beyond. I only laughed about 3 times in the entirety of ‘Trolls‘ and two of those times were in that sequence alone.
But back the voice actors, Christine Baranski feels like perfect, inspired casting as the Bergen chef and main antagonist whilst on the flip-side Christopher Mintz-Plasse feels like the most cliché choice as the teenage Bergen king. Zooey Deschanel plays the chamber-maid in love with the king and does what you’d expect her to do, Russell Brand is bland as zen-like Troll, James Corden plays James Corden Troll and the rest of the cast feels like an excuse to get celebrities to do one-line, bit-parts so you can put them in the trailer or on the poster.
Animation-wise, ‘Trolls‘ does shine with vibrant visuals, inspired non-Troll creature designs and an engaging world…for the first act. Once the action moves to the Bergen Kingdom we get drab visuals which, while clearly intentional, don’t have a hint of inspiration to them. Just because a world is grey and drab doesn’t mean it can’t still be interesting. The characters’ facial expressions are on-point, the Trolls are appropriately cute and there’s plenty here to distract the kids.
And that feels like all that ‘Trolls‘ is really good for; being a colourful distraction for kids. Sorry if this review feels a bit light on details but despite only seeing ‘Trolls‘ a few days ago I can hardly remember anything about it. It’s not egregious enough to be considered a lifeless “product” but it’s not inventive enough to be worthwhile viewing. Toddlers will enjoy it, parents might recognise a few of the songs but I don’t think anyone will remember it by the time the next animated films rolls around. ‘Trolls‘ may do well enough financially to start a franchise, but those wanting their next ‘How To Train Your Dragon‘ or ‘Kung Fu Panda‘ will not find their needs even remotely catered for. It’s certainly not a patch on ‘The Dam of Wall Street‘.
I give ‘Trolls‘ 2 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 15th Feb 17