It’s difficult to believe that it has been four years since the original Trolls movie was released and turned into a legitimate hit. That was due in large part to its insanely catchy soundtrack (with sizable contributions from Justin Timberlake, who also provides a voice to one of the film’s lead characters, Branch) and an almost overwhelming abundance of positivity, provided primarily by troll extraordinaire Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick), fueled by her addiction to pop music. The entire experience was eye-catching and joyful; it was easy to fall under its spell. So the question remains: during one of the darkest times on the planet, is the Trolls vibe exactly what we need? Apparently distributor Universal thinks so, since they have held onto their original release date and, rather than delay the theatrical opening, put the film out directly On Demand, essentially making them the only game in town in terms of new, big-studio releases in the month of April.
In Trolls World Tour, Queen Poppy (she was promoted at the end of the first film) and her best friend Branch discover that there are other Troll tribes across the lands, and each one is centered around and devoted to different styles of music: classical, country, techno, funk, rock, and, of course, pop. When the Troll tribes were one, they possessed six strings that made it possible to blend each of these sounds however they saw fit, but the fans of each style of music began to get possessive and fighting broke out (perhaps the Troll world’s version of toxic fandom), forcing the groups to separate, each one taking a string that fuels their devotion to their respective music.
Early on, we meet Barb (a raspy-voiced Rachel Bloom) and daughter of King Thrash (a barely audible Ozzy Osbourne, in one of many examples of exemplary casting here). She wants to take her Rock Trolls (really more like Metal Trolls) on a “World Tour” of the Troll kingdoms and eliminate all other forms of music by collecting all of the musical strings and making rock the king of all music, as it should be. Poppy wrongfully assumes that Barb is attempting to get the strings to bring the Trolls back together, so much so that she hops in a balloon and attempts to intercept Barb and visit the other tribes along the way. When Barb finds out what Poppy is up to, she sends a group of bounty hunters out to stop her, using the power of their off-brand styles of music, including smooth jazz, K-pop, and even yodeling.
Poppy’s single-mindedness concerning her mission is so troubling that even Branch threatens to walk if she doesn’t stop and listen to everyone around her telling her that Barb is bad news and that she should return to defend her tribe. And before long, the film’s true messages begin to emerge. In the first film, the themes were more vague and free-floating ideas about love and hugs and dancing, all the name of making yourself and others feel better. This time around, they seem more grounded in real-world issues and concerns of cultural appropriation (one could make a case that Timberlake being in a film about that is ironic, but he once again co-writes and -produces some killer tunes on the soundtrack, so all is forgiven), fighting just because other people don’t agree with you or like the same things you do, and the benefits of diversity. None of these messages are thrown in your face, but they’re also fairly easy to spot.
Helmed by returning director Walt Dohrn (and co-directed by David P. Smith) and working from a screenplay that somehow took six people to write, Trolls World Tour features new and returning voice work from the likes of James Corden, Ron Funches, Kelly Clarkson (as a velvet-throated country singer), Anderson .Paak, Sam Rockwell, George Clinton and Mary J. Blige (as the king and queen of the Funk Trolls, naturally), Kenan Thompson, Jamie Dornan, Anthony Ramos, Karan Soni, and Charlyne Yi as an adorable Pennywhistle. And even with all of that acting and singing talent, it’s Kendrick and Timberlake who take center stage, especially when we discover that Branch has begun to have feelings for Poppy, but either can’t get the words out, or she won’t stop talking long enough for him to say them.
In terms of the music, there are the obligatory, high-energy covers, but it’s the new songs that pulled me in the most and clued me into the emotions of these characters. Timberlake’s brokenhearted love song “Perfect for Me” is borderline devastating. The movie isn’t any better or worse than the original Trolls, and that’s probably going to be just fine for most people clamoring to rent this film on opening weekend. The expanded Trolls universe is a step in the right direction, and the slightly more serious tone makes Trolls World Tour a little less adult friendly, which helps. This is above-average animated fare (from DreamWorks Animation) that will hopefully take your mind off the world outside for 90 minutes and give you a handful of great new songs to hum for days to come. That being said, I hope not too many other tentpole films take this route to distribution—though some may not have an option of theaters remain closed too much deeper into the summer.
The film is available now for a 48-rour rental period at Apple TV, Xfinity, Vudu Fandango Now, and YouTube. Rent from the platform of your choice.
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