The Trolls: World Tour
Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Elizabeth Tippet
Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Ron Funches, Kelly Clarkson, Anderson .Paak, Sam Rockwell, George Clinton, Mary J. Blige, Kenan Thompson, Kunal Nayyar, Caroline Hjelt, Aino Jawo, J Balvin, Flula Borg, Ester Dean, Jamie Dornan, Gustavo Dudamel, Ozzy Osbourne, Anthony Ramos, Karan Soni, Charlyne Yi, Zooey Deschanel
The very notion of a sequel is to return to a familiar world, evoke the same kind of emotional satisfaction, and ultimately make the viewer feel like they are spending time with an old friend. Trolls World Tour squanders all of the good will that the warm, pleasant surprise of the original left with its audience.
The original film did very little world building before setting its characters on their heartwarming quest for broad acceptance, so the sequel has some work to do in crafting that backstory. It posits that many years before, an artifact contained six harmonious strings that allowed the core musical universe of pop, country, techno, funk, rock and roll, and classical to coexist peacefully, but a nefarious force from within threatened that existence and caused these forms of music to take their string and live in isolation from the rest of the world. In the present context, it’s the queen of the rock and roll trolls, Barb (voiced by Rachel Bloom), who wants to take the strings of the other five groups and plug them into her guitar so that she can eradicate them all and make rock the one true musical genre.
The main cast of the first film (Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, and James Corden) return to try and thwart Barb’s power grab. Along the way, they meet the leaders of the funk trolls (George Clinton and Mary J. Blige) and the country trolls (Kelly Clarkson) in an effort to stave off the homogenization of their musical roots. Poppy (Kendrick) seems certain that she can win Barb over with her effervescent personality, but must come to terms that everything isn’t about her, which is a lesson the first film should have already taught her.
Sam Rockwell is the only other major guest voice as a country troll who helps Poppy and company escape his people’s isolationist tendencies. Beyond that, the voice cast is entertaining enough, but mostly filler, the large quantity of new characters making it impossible for any of them to really distinguish themselves.
As the film progresses, we find each branch of music distilled down to rather simplistic terms, which might appeal to younger audiences who know very little about music, but may feel reductive to most teens and adults. At issue here is the notion that crossover musical styles are a foreign notion and that genres like hard rock (shabbily rolled into the rock class), rap, jazz, and R&B are unimportant. The amount of music released today that borrows heavily from other sources and styles is so broad that squeezing everything down to these specific six ignores all the contributions of the others and by then ridiculing K-Pop, smooth jazz, reggaeton, and yodeling only serves to isolate those subgenres further.
Even if the notion of boiling down music into its basic components were an attempt to get young audiences into exploring their musical sides, this film does precious little to encourage that, likely providing a dull experience for most youngsters. Far worse is the film’s tendency to stereotype these styles of music, making country unwelcome to outsiders and fairly hickish, making classical seem puny and easily cowed, and then allowing the only depth in the film to be presented by the funk and pop branches while giving short shrift to both techno and classical, a double-hit to one of the oldest musical genres in history. It’s a grand concept that was poorly manipulated into this shoddy end result.
Trolls World Tour tries very hard to get away from feeling mean-spirited, but the actions of the lead characters seem overly focused on protecting their own personal feelings than legitimately saving the universe. By the time Corden’s overly trusting character departs, the audience almost feels like they should join him and leave the rest of the film to its own devices. Even the energetic and rousing musical cues of the original film are replaced by less exciting song elements in this one.
Sure, the audience gets more of a broad overview of other musical styles, but the end result is something less than fun or entertaining. It’s a rigorous attempt to revisit what made the first film feel special while forgetting entirely how to go about doing that. Even the film’s major Timberlake contribution (“The Other Side”) pales in comparison to his invigorating “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from the first film. That song ultimately becomes emblematic of the failures of this follow up feature.
Potentials: Animated Feature
Unlikelies: Original Song (“The Other Side”)
January 12, 2021