If you grew up in the 90s the word ‘troll’ mainly referred to miniature toys with colourful hair rather than unhappy individuals online. Those dolls have been absent from the pop culture horizon for so long that a 2016 movie based on the property seems more than a little odd.
Then again, Dreamworks has made a fortune on films featuring cute little characters and merchandise based on them, so its purchase of the Trolls IP and a subsequent film makes sense. If it’s a hit, it’s likely we’ll be seeing these dolls return to toy shops across the world.
It’s a safe bet that this is going to happen, because this film is going to be on circuit when the school holidays (it sees release this Friday) and it’ll be a Godsend for parents who want to pacify their kids for a couple of hours.
For a film centred on cute little singing sprites, Trolls is surprisingly dark in its opening moments, but luckily it doesn’t stay that way. In the first ten or so minutes we’re introduced to the happy, bubbly titular characters and then a race of ogre-like beings called Bergens, who can only feel happiness if they eat Trolls. Yes, pretty morbid stuff.
The story kicks off as the imprisoned Trolls escape from the Bergens and then it jumps forward 20 years to a time of prosperity for the Trolls, and a literal depression for the Bergens. Then one day a the Trolls reveal their position by throwing a massive party. A nasty Bergen arrives and scoops up nearly every last Troll, leaving only two – the insanely chipper Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and the sourpuss Branch (Justin Timberlake) – to embark on a rescue effort.
Like a lot of other Dreamworks animated movies, Trolls is a comedy-musical. “Oh no,” we hear the parents in the audience gasp,”my kids have only just stopped listening to Let it Go“. Parents, aunts, uncles and grand-folks, you can rest easy, because the film’s musical numbers are one of its strongest assets.
Much like Glee, Trolls pulls in songs from many eras of music and puts clever twists on each. If you need an example: Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” gets a delightful rendition in this movie, sung by a Troll and a gaggle of forest creatures that made our hearts swell.
In a bizarre twist this movie takes classics like Funkytown by Lipps Inc. and Clint Eastwood by the Gorillaz and inserts them into the movie at poignant times much to the audience’s delight. Older viewers will nod their heads appreciatively and we can easily see the little ones pestering parents for their credit cards and downloading the OST.
Naturally, the animation is superb and gags abound in the script. The world of Trolls is awash with bright colours and glitter (lots of glitter – one of the Trolls farts it out, don’t ask). The voice acting is competent but very forgettable, which is strange when one considers the cast features the likes of James Corden and Russell Brand. The cast can sing though, we give them that, and it makes up for the flat voice acting.
It’s sometimes useful to look at a movie and ask what it’s trying to do, and then assess it one its success in it’s endeavour. What Trolls tries to do is be a good animated movie for the kids on Christmas holidays of 2016. Does it achieve that? Yes, pretty well actually. If it aimed to be a classic or a vehicle to sell toys, well, we don’t think it managed to get that far. We do, however, see the return of Troll toys in the very near future.