Jonathan Aibel, Glen Berger, Erica Rivinoja, Thomas Dam
Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, John Cleese, James Corden, Jeffrey Tambor, Ron Funches, Aino Jawo, Caroline Hjelt, Kunal Nayyar, Quvenzhané Wallis, Walt Dohrn
PG for some mild rude humor
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
Once a major purveyor of computer animated entertainment, DreamWorks has struggled in recent years to build on their initial burst of creativity. Trolls marks the company’s latest effort to halt its decline and become one of the great animation studios again.
At the heart of the film are empowering themes of accepting differences and abandoning fear in favor of hope. It tells the story of a community of bright-haired critters called trolls who must escape from a race of mirthless monsters who savor the trolls as delicacies to be enjoyed at an annual festival. Although they match the traditional fantasy description of trolls, these vile bergen have been raised to believe that joy can only come from eating other creatures who have it.
Anna Kendrick stars as Poppy, a chipper, scrapbooking troll who wants everyone to be as happy as she is. To show her excitement, she throws a major party to celebrate their awesomeness. Rejecting the troll society in general, Justin Timberlake plays Branch, a cautious, colorless worry wart who perpetually warns his fellow creatures that the bergen are sure to hear them and come and eat them all. When his dire warnings come to fruition, he teams up with Poppy to traverse the wide world of theirs in the hopes of rescuing those who’ve been captured and save them from becoming lunch.
The story, which seems like something that might have been rejected by the fine folks at Laika (Coraline, Kubo and the Two Strings), is a bit more expansive than this, but the film plays entirely like a piece of syrupy children’s entertainment. It may have some pessimistic moments, but the utter cheerfulness of the trolls is both frustrating and heartening in equal measure. The song and dance numbers give the film life, but there are some strong emotional moments that will appeal to children and adults alike.
Kendrick does great vocal work and Timberlake is no slouch. As suitable contrasts, Zooey Deschanel’s lovelorn Bridget makes an admirable addition to the cast as does Christpher Mintz-Plasse as her desired paramour Prince Gristle Jr. Emmy winner Christine Baranski is also solid as the Bergen chef trying to track down the trolls she’s accused of permitting to escape. The rest of the cast, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, John Cleese, James Corden, Jeffrey Tambor, and others also provide adequate support.
The musical selection is top notch, matching the events almost perfectly, with the highlight being the “True Colors” number, performed by Timberlake and Kendrick, near the film’s end. The finale, “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” is a pop dance masterpiece, but isn’t given nearly the breadth of screen time as it should have been. “Hello,” given voice by the lonely Bridget is a brilliant insertion as is “The Sound of Silence,” Kendrick’s version of the Simon & Garfunkel classic.
The animation is solid, but everything feels so impossibly pristine that even the garish and drab bergen city is strikingly well constructed. It’s the type of solid work that DreamWorks is well known for, but which needs to take some cues from the likes of Laika’s BoxTrolls and Coraline, pictures that have cleverly mastered the art of dingy beauty.
Trolls is utterly predictable and sometimes corny, but it’s also an endearing narrative that puts value in kindness, compassion, and looking past our differences. There’s little here that won’t appeal to children, but it has some appeal to adults. While that simplicity makes one curious for what the likes of Laika, Disney, or Pixar could have done with the material, it’s a satisfying film that’s better upon reflection than perhaps upon its original viewing.
Guarantees: Original Song (“Can’t Stop the feeling”)
February 8, 2017