Not the internet ones
Well, it could have been worse.
Trolls is the latest unnecessary animated feature in a year already bulging with them: Norm of the North, The Angry Birds Movie, Storks, The Wild Life, The Secret Life of Pets and the 2016 winner of the Oh God Please Make Them Stop Award, the latest Ice Age stinker. In that company, granted, a bag of barf thrown against the wall would be relatively entertaining. So it may be damning with faint praise to say that Trolls is better than expected. But really, it’s kind of fun.
For starters, writers Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger and Erica Rivinoja actually managed to come up with a story, wispy as it may be. Trolls, a species of tiny people inspired by the Danish fad dolls of the 1960s, are relentlessly happy; Bergens—great hulking ogres with evil eyes and crooked teeth—are equally miserable. But the Bergens crave happiness, and in their twisted minds the only way to find it is to eat the source of happiness, the Trolls themselves. This they do by ransacking the Troll Tree in the middle of Bergen Town once a year, on the holiday they call Trollstice. But one Trollstice, just as Prince Gristle of the Bergens (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is about to get his first taste, King Peppy of the Trolls (Jeffrey Tambor) leads his people on a daring escape.
Next thing, it’s 20 years later. The Trolls have lived safe in the woods since their escape. But King Peppy’s daughter Poppy (Anna Kendrick) celebrates the anniversary with a party that gets too loud and festive, attracting the attention of the Chef (Christine Baranski), who kidnaps a fanny-packful of Trolls to take back and curry favor with the still-unhappy, now-King Gristle. Poppy sets out for Bergen Town to rescue her lost subjects, commandeering the reluctant aid of Branch (Justin Timberlake), the least cheerful, most pessimistic and grayest of Trolls.
Another wrinkle in the story involves Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), a Bergen palace scullery maid secretly in love with King Gristle. Poppy and Bridget form an unlikely alliance aimed at solving both their problems.
Directors Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn pepper Trolls’ numerous musical numbers (mostly covers of post-1970s pop) with splashy visual fripperies that underline and italicize the movie’s cheerful sweetness. The songs are fun, with vocal performance honors going to Zooey Deschanel’s too-brief rendition of Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and Justin Timberlake’s take on Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” Trolls at least reminds us of the fertile, symbiotic relationship between music and animation—something Walt Disney discovered 90 years ago, and which most animation studios seem to have forgotten.
Kudos to Dreamworks for making Trolls a pleasant surprise. I’ll even check out Trolls 2 if they insist on making it. But they shouldn’t press their luck.