Trolls is not really a movie. It’s a toy that was turned into a loose concept designed to sell more toys and more merchandise. This can be seen from the fact that there are toys, clothes, posters, and songs everywhere-and I do mean everywhere. Really, there’s not really a plot to it-just a combination of already well-worn ideas meant to vaguely entertain and make a bunch of people-from stars to toy companies-richer. However, with a heartwarming, if clichéd, message, a killer soundtrack, and a bunch of game, enjoyable people in the voice cast, Trolls proves its worth as an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half.
Twenty years ago, the Troll community was captured by the evil, ugly Bergens. You see, the Bergens are incapable of feeling happiness, but can experience it for an instant when they devour a happy, upbeat Troll. The Trolls escaped, led by their leader, King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor). Now, the Trolls celebrate in the woods every year on the day of their liberation, now led by the overly-cheerful Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick, an absolute delight), much to the chagrin of Branch (Justin Timberlake), a cynical survivalist. Branch worries that the loud partying of the Troll community will lead the Bergens back, to the doubt of his fellow Trolls. Unfortunately, he is proven to be right, and a small handful of the group are captured by the Bergen Chef (Christine Baranski). Poppy and Branch must travel the woods to find their way to Bergen Town, ally themselves with a Scullery Maid (Zooey Deschanel) and save their friends, all while receiving a reminder of the importance of happiness along the way.
Now, the most glaring thing wrong with this movie is the plot. Boiled down to its basics-an optimistic girl and a cynical guy must save the day, and learn to be happy-it sounds like a thousand animated movies that have come before. I mean, the last two movies Disney released, Inside Out and Zootopia, are about finding the meaning of happiness and the dichotomy of happy girl/cynical guy. There’s nothing really original about this plot. However, a lack of originality isn’t always a bad thing, as long as the people involved are game. Kendrick and Timberlake are so perfect in these roles, it feels fresh, which is incredibly important in any movie.
What’s more, the plot in this movie isn’t important in the slightest. I know this is shocking to hear, considering I’m the most vocal critic in terms of the importance of story. But in Trolls, the point is the music. Heck, the movie itself feels almost like a conceptual music video for a really great soundtrack. Because this soundtrack is incredible-every song is absolute dynamite. It almost seems like the cart came before the horse on this one-like Justin Timberlake got a bunch of his friends together to make a killer album, then said, “Why don’t we just turn this into a movie?” before throwing together a simple concept for it all. Every song Kendrick sings is fire, Deschanel brings her sultry voice to the unrequited lover perfectly, and when the film’s most famous song, Can’t Stop The Feeling!, starts playing, it really is electric. It might be the single best original song-moment in a film in years-perhaps since Happy for Despicable Me 2, and certainly since Let It Go from Frozen. While “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” is truly the standout experience, it is worth noting that the other original song (at least I think it’s the only other original song-there’s a lot of covers here), “Get Back Up Again” is a knockout for Kendrick. And that’s not to mention the cover of “True Colors” that serves as the film’s emotional peak, and proving that (along with Anomalisa), Cyndi Lauper may have been the most secretly perfect artist of the 80s. If a movie could be judged solely on its soundtrack, this film is an A+.
Vocally, the performances range from excellent to confusing. As mentioned, Kendrick and Timberlake are perfectly cast, playing off each other perfectly, and using their personalities to add to the characters. Kendrick brings her bouncy voice and high energy to sell the performance, while Timberlake brings some of his SNL charm to the role. There’s a point where Kendrick hypothesizes that Branch can’t sing, and Timberlake responds, “Oh no. People say it’s like an angel” with such a point blank attitude, it almost sounds like he’s breaking character and just responding as himself, rendering it hilarious. Russell Brand, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Ron Funches each bring some joy to their characters, and Baranski is an absolute joy in the role, although her lack of any songs is a travesty. I will say, however, that the choice of Deschanel is a weird one. While her voice makes her songs an absolute joy, her choice in accent for Scullery Maid Bridget is incredibly jarring. However, it’s much worse when her character begins to rap-I don’t need to hear anyone labeled “adorkable” attempting to perform hip-hop.
Look, in many ways, Trolls is too simplistic for its own good. It often settles for the fart joke, the ideas are a little too simplistic for their own good, and not everything falls into place as smoothly as the writers would like. However, Trolls has an adorable premise, a strong voice cast, an important message in sobering times, and a great soundtrack. Your kids can do worse for an hour and a half.