TROLLS: Sugar High Study In Primary Colors

Yet another vintage toy has made it to the big screen as a movie property – this time it’s the trolls, originally created in 1959 by Danish fisherman Thomas Dam. Trolls became a major toy fad in the ’60s, and there have been previous TV and video game incarnations.

In fact, Trolls is aimed as squarely at parents as it is the kids, who likely won’t be as familiar with the terrifically tressed toy trolls as they were say, Angry Birds. Probably not a problem. A comeback seems likely.

Feel-Good Movie and Cinematic Sugar High

Some animated films – Inside Out comes to mind – deliberately aim for and achieve loftily ambitious goals. That’s all well and good, but while we hand out the props and kudos, it would be a shame to overlook the simple joy of a primary color exercise like Trolls. If Trolls is more superficial entertainment than Inside Out, or any number of other Pixar offerings, for that matter, this is a gorgeous movie to look at, particularly in 3D, and it’s funny to boot.

Not as smart as The Lego Movie but smarter than the Smurfs movies, Trolls is a brightly-colored, sugary confection that looks like a big bowl of Skittles under a black light, and absolutely defies you to pan it. Surprisingly trippy with clever banter, Trolls is a feel-good movie that will actually make you feel good, if also sugar high.

TROLLS: Sugar High Study In Primary Colors
source: DreamWorks Animation

The plot may sound saccharine enough to induce a diabetic coma, but it actually plays palatably. Writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger are veterans of DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda movies, and they know how these movies are supposed to play. There’s an aspect of paint-by-numbers here, not that anyone’s likely to care.

The ogre-like Bergens think that the only way they can achieve happiness is by (gasp) eating the almost psychotically happy Trolls. Troll King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor) organizes a Troll exodus, and leavies the Bergens, well, unhappy. Twenty years later, King Peppy’s daughter Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) throws an over-exuberant anniversary celebration party, which leads long-disgraced Bergen chef (Christine Baranski) right to them. She nabs a bunch of them to bring back to the Bergen kingdom, to worm her way back into the good graces of young Prince Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).

Poppy is forced to team up with Branch (Justin Timberlake), the one downer Troll, to save their kidnapped friends. Timberlake voices Branch just right – a prickly pessimist with a skeptical, dark view of the lollipop-colored world they live in. Obviously, there’s backstory to explain how Branch could be so drably monochrome in such a Technicolor, widescreen world.  

What is the Nature of Happiness

Yes, there’s an issue – what’s the nature of happiness? – and Trolls, a giddily happy movie,  is uniquely qualified to ask and answer that question. The Trolls are happy, but the Bergens, in their squalid, brown village, want to also be happy. They just don’t realize the secret to happiness isn’t eating Trolls. Happiness is found within. There is a suggestion that a thorough makeover can help – Bergen Prince Gristle and scullery maid Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) are clearly perfect for each other, but romance doesn’t spark until the Trolls give Bridget a Day-Glo rainbow hair weave.

TROLLS: Sugar High Study In Primary Colors
source: DreamWorks Animation

Whatever original tidbits make their way into this candy-coated story, Aibel and Berger don’t mind borrowing. Elements from Cyrano de Bergerac and Cinderella find their way in, particularly in the Prince Gristle and Bridget romance.

Eating the Good Guys New Cartoon Movie Theme

Interestingly, the bad guys wanting to eat the good guys was also at the core of the recent Angry Birds movie, and may be taking center stage as the plot of the month for animated movies based on toys, games and apps. It isn’t terribly frightening, and probably won’t scare even the youngest viewers. There’s also what the MPAA rating box calls “mild rude humor,” now completely de rigeur in PG cartoons. One troll farts glitter instead of gas.

The Timberlake Factor

Trolls is a rollicking musical, with a ’70s disco beat. Music producer Justin Timberlake (who also voices Branch) has brilliantly selected a number of songs that will be more familiar to parents than their kids, but seat dancing is inevitable. Timberlake does a shamelessly catchy version of “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” (which has been out since early May) and has duets with Anna Kendrick on “True Colors” and “September” and with Gwen Stefani on “What U Workin’ With?” Timberlake and Stefani are joined by Ron Funches for “Hair Up.” Zooey Deschanel and Ariana Grande also contribute vocals, and Kendrick kicks in a witty cover of Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.”

TROLLS: Sugar High Study In Primary Colors
source: DreamWorks Animation

Brit favorites James Corden and Russell Brand both voice characters as well, but are actually hard to sort out. Is this a problem? Both are on past the bedtimes of the preschool crowd, but identifying the voices might take their parents out of the movie. And the question remains as to whether this rather deliberate nostalgia trip will be lost on the kids, who are the most important part of the intended audience.

Conclusion

Chances are, this expensive (reportedly $120 million) animated feature should score big. Funny, visually innovative – felt textures and glitter enliven the CG world on the screen – and undeniably bouncy, Trolls plays out at a tidy 92 minutes, which shouldn’t tax anyone’s attention span too badly. The underlying themes of friendship, loyalty, and achieving inner happiness are all perfectly wholesome.

You may end up feeling like you just ate all of your Halloween candy in one night, but that’s about the worst you can say about it. There’s no identity crisis here. Self-consciously cute and over-the-top colorful, Trolls knows exactly what it’s supposed to be and gets the job done.  

What do you think? Will Trolls score big at the box office? Or is this an animated nostalgia trip likely to be lost on the kids?

Trolls opened on October 8th in the United Kingdom, and on November 4th in the United States. Find international release dates here.

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