It may not happen right away, but there will likely come a point while watching the new Dreamwork Animation film Trolls that it will win you over. Although for some, it may feel more like you’ve been smothered by cuteness and simply surrendered. I’m actually surprised no one has attempted a movie about these colorful, crazy-haired dolls before. Then again, they don’t really do anything. They were designed decades ago as toys and nothing else—there is not greater troll universe with cartoons or backstories or anything resembling canon. The trolls have different names, hair colors, outfits, skin color, and that’s about it.
So perhaps the fact that co-directors Walt Dohrn (who has worked on various Shrek, Madagascar, and “SpongeBob” projects) and Mike Mitchell (Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Shrek Forever After, Sky High) helped in the creation of a world in which the trolls can sing, dance, play, and have a nemesis in the form of a decidedly unhappy species known as the Bergens is perhaps one of this film’s greatest achievements. The other being the truly joyous soundtrack produced almost entirely by Justin Timberlake, who also contributes a handful of original songs (sung by him and others) as well as some fun vintage dance songs that fuel the trolls almost-constant dance parties.
It’s been 20 years since the last Bergen attack on the Trolls, who are convinced the threat will never return. Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) was nearly captured and eaten the last time they attacked, but nowadays she seems more concerned with planning a massive party to celebrate of the escape from the Bergen threat. The only troll who seems to believe an eminent danger is Branch (Timberlake), who has built his version of a bomb shelter with years of provisions. Casting Timberlake as the only troll who doesn’t like dancing or singing is the movie’s biggest in-joke, so naturally part of the overly optimistic Poppy’s goal is to get him to do just that.
As the film goes on, we begin to see that each troll has different abilities, many of which have to do with how they can control their hair, but many of their powers are “fun” in nature. I especially like the character of Guy Diamond, whose skin seems to be made of a disco ball and his voice is nothing but Auto Tune. Other troll characters are voiced by the likes of James Corden, Russell Brand, and Gwen Stefani, which should probably alert you to the fact that Trolls was cast like a musical and not just an animated film.
As I mentioned, The Bergens are a miserable lot, and they can only found happiness by eating Trolls, a grisly prospect for a kids film, admittedly. King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has taken over for his father (John Cleese), is particularly sad that he’s never tasted troll in his life, something a previously banished Chef (Christine Baranski) is planning to remedy. The best character on the Bergen side of the conflict is a lowly scullery maid named Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), who is so in love with the king that she’s willing to betray her people and help the trolls just to get close to him. She sings a particularly somber version of Lionel Richie’s “Hello” that is so dark, it’s hilarious.
There are some rather wacky undercurrents lurking beneath the surface of Trolls. For one, the trolls are almost insane with their need to party, especially Poppy who is pure, uncut mania. Second, the film essentially says that being paranoid and fearful of the unknown is perfectly acceptable way to live even if you spend the rest of your life an angry loner. I actually think these elements add a great deal of dark humor to what could easily have been dismissed as a film mainly for children. There’s no denying that kids will likely eat this up, dance in the aisles, and have a good time out, but I’m guessing there will be a sizable number of adults in close proximity tapping their toes and smiling right along with them. You’ll know in the first five minutes if Trolls is going to annoy you to death, and if it doesn’t, you’ll probably have a lovely time.