Review: Trolls Band Together Revisits Familiar Characters and Music, a Mild New Entry into the Franchise

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Trolls movies because of the music, and because Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake have such winning personalities to go along with their great singing voices, that it’s difficult not to get caught up in the positivity of it all. The makers of these films, including the latest, Trolls Band Together, are fully aware these characters are ridiculous, and they seem to embrace their subversiveness while still making the movies wholly family friendly. To make room for a whole host of new characters, Poppy (Kendrick) and Branch (Timberlake) leave the confines of their humble Troll community and head out on a road trip to find Branch’s long-lost brothers, who collectively were a boy band called BroZone when Branch was still a baby (a singing baby, mind you).

At this point in the story, Poppy and Branch are a couple, although Branch still holds back feelings and details, such as being in a boy band as a baby. So the more Poppy (an only child) finds out about him and his family, the more intrigued she becomes. The four brothers include Floyd (electropop sensation Troye Sivan); John Dory (Eric André); Spruce (Daveed Diggs); and Clay (Kid Cudi). The band broke up over a dispute about whether there should be a leader or not, and their seemingly fruitless search for the perfect family harmony note that would propel them into another plain of musical awesomeness. But when Floyd is kidnapped and slowly drained of his musical talents by a pair of pop stars/bad guys, Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells), the only way he can be freed of his diamond prison is if the brothers reunite and achieve that perfect note.

Directed by Walk Dohrn and co-director Tim Heitz, Trolls Band Together is a fairly effective road movie and family reunion story, with Poppy also learning a few things about her own lineage along the way. She meets a new character and troll leader, Viva (Camila Cabello), and the two become instant best friends. That is until Poppy needs to leave to help Branch complete his rescue mission, and Viva doesn’t want any of them to go because the outside world is too dangerous. Overcoming that fear is part of Viva’s journey, but thanks to a host of cover (and a couple original) songs, everyone’s world views and internal struggles get dealt with pretty effortlessly.

Although there are a few familiar characters on hand, as well as a host of new ones, the scene stealer of Trolls Band Together is Kenan Thompson as Tiny Diamond, who has grown a lot since the last movie. Although he’s still a small child, he feels he has matured to the point where he can stow away on Branch’s mission and drive the vehicle they’re all traveling in, which looks a lot like the cat bus from My Neighbor Totoro. But keep your ears open for vocal appearances by the likes of Zooey Deschanel, Zosia Mamet, Rupaul Charles, Ron Funches, Anderson.Paak, and of course, the long-awaited reunion of all five *NSYNC members, along with a new song.

The screenplay is nothing special, and the villains are dealt with so quickly and easily I was expecting them to spring back up in a threatening way one more time before the film ended, and then the film ended! But it’s tough to resist such dedication to the musical format, even if so many of the songs are familiar and often dated pop hits. As long as the film and the soundtracks keep making money, I guess DreamWorks Animation will keep churning them out, but Trolls Band Together would be a perfect place to end this mildly successful fun run of splashy color, slick music, and wacky energy.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.