Trolls World Tour (2020)

Trolls World Tour may be a sequel that nobody asked for, but I’m sure glad it exists. Even though 2016’s Trolls didn’t leave much of a mark, despite its colorful animation and manic energy, it made enough money for DreamWorks and Universal to turn a bit of a profit and probably sold a stack of toys, too (because those hairy critters are kinda cute and loveable), urging the studio to green-light a follow-up. Thankfully, returning director Walt Dohrn (working with co-director David P. Smith) has crafted a stronger second outing, upping the technicolor madness, musical numbers, and world-building while celebrating multiculturalism and delivering the message that achieving real harmony takes many different voices.

‘One More Time.’

Once again, Trolls World Tour takes place in the storybook kingdom of psychedelic colors, tactile-looking material landscapes, and catchy tunes. It opens with a brief recap of the former adventure by Cloud Guy (voiced by filmmaker Walt Dohrn) before dropping us into the bioluminescent domain of the underwater Techno Trolls, who are raving to King Trollex’s (Anthony Ramos) rendition of Daft Punk’s ‘One More Time.’ All of a sudden, they’re Day-Glo rave is interrupted by the Hard Rock Trolls, who are being led by the goth-looking Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom). She demands that they turn over their magical string, which is the source of the tribe’s essence and vibe, so that the Rock Trolls can create the ultimate power cord and stamp out all other music in the world except Rock. For them to do this, they must collect all six strings in the land — that of the Techno Trolls, Country Trolls, Funk Trolls, Classical Trolls, and the Pop Trolls — and play the ultimate power cord, which will force everyone to live under a hard rock regime, where they’ll listen to the explosive sounds of ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane,’ and other rock anthems, on repeat.

Back in the Pop Trolls’ sugar-coated land of sunshine and lollipops, the cheerful Queen Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) is leading the sprites with a spring in her step while her pal Branch (voiced Justin Timberlake) is struggling to find a way to profess his true feelings towards her. Things change, however, when the pink-haired monarch receives an invitation to a Rock World Tour being held by the Rock Trolls, who ask the pop queen to bring her tribe’s string along to the event.

‘Let’s go save the world!’

This request forces the reluctant King Peppy (also voiced by Walt Dohrn) to reveal to his people that they aren’t exactly alone in the Trolliverse, detailing the history of their ancestors and the aforementioned musical strings, afraid that Queen Barb may be up to no good. Poppy, being the optimist that she is, believes that she can befriend Barb. Branch, on the other hand, remains skeptical. And so, Poppy and Branch, having brought their string with them, jump aboard a hot air balloon — along with stowaways Biggie (James Corden) and his sock-puppet looking mascot Mr. Dinkles (Kevin Michael Richardson) — and embark on a mission to right the wrongs of the past, unaware of Barb’s oppressive scheme.

Fluently animated by the whiz kids at DreamWorks Animation, Trolls World Tour hurtles through a number of impressive lands, each representing a different type of sound. It’s here where the film truly comes to life, with filmmakers doing their best to cram as many mind-bending musically themed visuals into each and every frame. We visit the classical-music themed Symphonyville, which is governed by conductor Trollzart (Gustavo Dudamel), and is filled with golden hills and mountains covered with instrument-type patterns, to the ash-covered wasteland of the fiery Volcano Rock City, the realm of the Mad Max-type Rock Trolls. We also stop over at the country-music themed desert of Lonesome Flats, ruled by a big-haired centaur-like Country & Western Diva named Delta Dawn, who’s voiced by Kelly Clarkson. There’s a great sequence here where Clarkson performs the showstopper ‘Born to Die’ (co-written by Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake), which opens Branch’s eyes up to the notion that sad songs have a place in the world, too, and can help in expressing oneself.

‘Howdy, pardner!’

Written by returning scribes Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (who’ve had help from Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, and Elizabeth Tippet), the film explores diversity and the importance of listening to the voices of others. The script even manages to comment on more complex ideas such as cultural appropriation, chiefly within a subplot that revolves around the fuzzy long-necked Cooper (Ron Funches), who embarks on his own voyage, which leads him to a trippy science fiction-esque world named Vibe City, home of the Funk Trolls. There, Cooper meets his folks, King Quincy (George Clinton) and Queen Essence (Mary J. Blige), and learns that pop music was actually lifted from other types of music (mainly 70’s disco and R&B).

Writers also manage to incorporate more niche types of musical genres into the film with the inclusion of some bounty hunters, whom Barb hires to capture Poppy — the K-Pop Gang, voiced by the group Red Velvet; the Reggaeton Trolls led by Colombian singer J Balvin; Smooth Jazz Chaz, voiced by Fifty Shades of Grey’s Jamie Dornan; and the mystery Yodelers — promising them that their music would remain (even under the Rock regime) if they were to succeed.

‘Ready to rock?’

Voice work is solid across the board. The charismatic Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect (2012), is chipper as ever as the happy-go-lucky Poppy, while Justin Timberlake, The Social Network (2010), elevates the character of Branch, who’s struggling to get out of the friend zone with Poppy. Rachel Bloom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-19), is also a treat as the punky, fishnet-wearing hellion Queen Barb, Bloom managing to impress with her renditions of Heart’s ‘Barracuda,’ and Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Crazy Train’ — speaking of the Prince of Darkness, listen out for Osbourne who has a small but memorable part as King Thrash, the ex-ruler of the Rock Trolls. Sam Rockwell, Iron Man 2 (2010), threatens to steal the entire movie as Hickory, an easy-going cowboy centaur that winds up joining the gang on their quest, despite Branch’s better judgment. Lastly, The Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar reprises his role as the sparkly Guy Diamond who gives birth to a pint-sized rapper, Tiny Diamond (Kenan Thompson), early on in the flick.

Concluding with messages of hope and unity, Trolls World Tour is a wild jukebox musical full of color, glitter (yes, there are literal glitter bombs), energy, and flair, one that’s bound to delight both young and old — it even finishes in a place where the idea of another entry would be welcome. It’s a strange movie with a ton of bonkers concepts and visuals, but I guess we’re living in strange times. I know it’s been said a hundred times before, mainly in relation to lesser quality flicks *cough* Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020) *cough* but Trolls World Tour really is the movie that we need right now during the current pandemic — heck, it’s up-beat tempo, and musical pizzazz certainly brightened up my week! Be sure to stick around for the credits to hear SZA and Justin Timberlake’s catchy theme song ‘The Other Side,’ which has been written and recorded for the movie, and a mid-credit scene that’s sure to please fans of the original film.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Trolls World Tour is released through Universal Pictures Australia