Trolls (2016)

Find your happy place

Since when are trolls happy-go-lucky? According to most, a troll is either A) a large, unsightly (sometimes friendly) isolated mountain monster, according to Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore or B) a keyboard hero who repeatedly starts arguments over the Internet by posting rabble-rousing, irrelevant or off-topic messages in online forums just to piss-off the masses. But wait. Remember those plastic dolls with up-combed multi-colored hair? Sure, these Good Luck Trolls, created by Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam, were a major pop-culture fad in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, but I seriously doubt youngsters today would know anything about these adorably ugly toys, which, way back when, simply made people feel good, their simplicity and endearing imperfections becoming an symbol for happiness.

Taking its cues from the latter, Trolls — the 33rd animated feature by DreamWorks Animation — is a story about a bunch of bite-sized all-singing-all-dancing fuzzy-haired critters who, I kid you not, poop cupcakes and shoot sprinkles from the butts. However, with these overly optimistic Trolls living at the mercy of the Bergens, oversized pessimistic ogres who are only high in spirit when they have a sweet and syrupy Troll churning inside their belly, the narrative instantly paints itself into a corner with no way of getting out.

Let's Rock & Troll!
Let’s Rock & Troll!

You see, for years the Bergens had been celebrating Trollstice, an annual fiesta in which each Bergen gets a momentary fill of glee by gobbling up a single Troll, the said caged in a candy-colored tree right in the center of town. It seems silly, then, to think that these Trolls were living in a perpetual state of happiness whilst witnessing their friends and family being sacrificed (eaten alive) for the sole purpose of cheering up a Bergen. This idea makes even less sense fast forward twenty odd years, where we find the Trolls, having since escaped captivity, now residing in a forestry dwelling just outside of Bergen Town, where they maintain their incessantly upbeat party lifestyle, complete with hourly communal hug sessions.

It is here that we meet the ‘unhappy’ Branch (Justin Timberlake), an overly cautious, paranoid, non-singing-non-dancing Troll, who seems to have lost his flavor. Forced to team up with eternal optimist Poppy (Anna Kendrick) to rescue a handful of her pals after they’re discovered by a disgraced, mean-spirited Bergen Chef (Christine Baranski), eager to get back into the good books of the King’s forlorn son, Prince Gristle Jr. (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), whom she wronged two decades ago, this mismatched duo — the cynical Branch and Poppy, with her over-the-top enthusiasm — must venture to the dangerous and gloomy home of the Burgens to save Poppy’s bffs before they suffer a less-than-cheery fate.

'Fist bump if Cloud Guy is your favorite guy!'
‘Fist bump if Cloud Guy is your favorite guy!’

Well, over the course of this sugar-glazed journey, filled with recycled Top 10 pop hits, trippy disco-dance numbers and candy-coated visuals, Branch reveals that he is the way that he is — dull, drab and dreary — due to a guilt he harbors, his ‘beautiful’ singing solely responsible for getting his dear ol’ Grandma Rosiepuff (GloZell) eaten by a Bergen. So, if Branch went from ‘blue to grey,’ so to speak, burdened with the loss of his grandmother, why were all the Trolls so full of zesty energy when they were imprisoned inside of Bergen Town? What did they have to be so joyous about, seeing as they were all waiting in line to be served as a type of depression-treating Xanax for the Burgens?

What’s more, the film’s conclusion is so flimsy and nonsensical, with a proposed ‘peace’ between the Trolls and Bergens that honestly couldn’t last longer than a couple of days, this set in motion during Justin Timberlake’s catchy clap-along track ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling!’ which unites the quarreling creatures via a boogie in the village streets — remember, the Bergens, for countless generations, were instilled with the belief that happiness could only be achieved by digesting a Troll. What happens when one of them has a bad day? Talk about plot holes!

'Oh, don't toy with me!'
‘Oh, don’t toy with me!’

But, I guess if you fall between the ages of 5 to 10, or aren’t scratching your head in befuddlement, there’s actually a lot to enjoy about Trolls. In fact, co-directors Mike Mitchell, Shrek Forever After (2010), and Walt Dohrn — who helmed the awfully named short, Donkey’s Christmas Shrektacular (2010) — have ensured that each frame is infused with a fireworks display of cutesy goodness, the film’s scrapbook-come-to-life aesthetic brimming with tactile textures, flocked fibers and malleable materials; the world of Trolls a true visual treat. The titular Trolls have been gloriously realized, too; padded with soft felt-fabrics or covered in sparkles, as is the case with Guy Diamond (voiced by The Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar), the resident Glitter Troll, each character is exuberantly quirky by design. Complete with those hallmark hairdos — brightly colored tufts grown to gravity-defying heights — the Trolls are surrounded by a plethora of soda-splattered settings and blaring day-glo fluorescents.

It’s a darn shame then that the narrative lacks internal logic; to think, this was pieced together by no less than three writers — the screenplay penned by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, of Kung Fu Panda (2008) fame, based on a story by Erica Rivinoja, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013). Thankfully, Trolls hammers home some kid-friendly emotion-charged messages, simple ideas about happiness coming from within — and that joy can ultimately be found in many different ways — the flick also commenting on outward positivity and how this can be a powerful tool in itself, its infectiousness capable of enlightening everybody around us.

'They see us trollin,' they hatin'...'
‘They see us trollin,’ they hatin’…’

The perky Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect (2012), is wonderful as Poppy, princess of the Trolls, an affable and charismatic leader with an untiring can-do attitude, Kendrick’s good-natured sass and feistiness ensuring that the relentlessly chirpy firecracker doesn’t become all too irritating. Likewise, singer-songwriter Justin Timberlake — who also serves as an executive music producer on the flick — gives a layered performance as the disgruntled Branch, a character that could’ve easily become unbearable due to his persistent negativity, the gifted Timberlake balancing Branch’s grumpy demeanor with a hint of sarcasm, the playful chemistry between Kendrick and Timberlake proving that opposites do (sometimes) attract, Poppy’s merriment complementing Branch’s un-Troll-like attitude.

Elsewhere, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, How to Train Your Dragon (2010), embodies the Gremlin-like King Gristle Jr., a surly, twentysomething man-child who vows to bring happiness back to Bergen Town, having never experienced pleasure, joy or love himself, while Zooey Deschanel, Elf (2003), supplies the vocals for the love-struck Bridget, a bashful Bergen scullery maid who seems to be the only kindhearted (and mildly sympathetic) creature living in all of the township, the pair eventually thrust into a goofy Cinderella-type romance that’s custom-made to get viewers feeling all warm and squishy inside.

My Singing Monsters: Troll ... lololol Island
My Singing Monsters: Troll … lololol Island

Making her animated feature film debut, Christine Baranski, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), is decent as the evil, ill-tempered Chief, who has dastardly plans to unearth the run-away Trolls in order to regain her position in the Royal Bergen Kitchen, the 64-year-old actress mixing menace with mirth, whereas musician/ glam diva Gwen Stefani — who voices resident Troll disk-jockey, DJ Suki — English comedian Russell Brand, Get Him to the Greek (2010) — playing free-thinking ‘hippy’ Troll, Creek — and Jeffrey Tambor, from televisions Arrested Development (2003) — as the shaggy Troll King, Peppy — are simply underused in their minor roles.

Sure, Trolls is about as cheesy as a Three-Cheese Bacon Pizza — a scene which sees the Trolls prepare for death by singing an uninspired cover of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colors’ may very well be the most mawkishly sentimental schlock I’ve seen in a cinema all year. Cooped with kindergarten humor alongside a half-baked plot that, for a children’s film, centers on systematic murder (really guys?), you’d think that Trolls would be a low scorer, but perhaps its hallucinogenic nature warped this critic into enjoying this ridiculous little romp more than he honestly should have.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by S-Littner

Trolls is released through 20th Century Fox Australia