Trolls World Tour
2020, PG, 94 min. Directed by Walt Dohrn, David P. Smith. Voices by Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Ron Funches, Kelly Clarkson, Anderson .Paak, Sam Rockwell, George Clinton, Mary J. Blige, Kenan Thompson, Kunal Nayyar.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 10, 2020
Every mediocre, inspired-by-a-toy, CG-animated, kid-friendly musical franchise gets the sequel it deserves (hey, you've already built the character models), and so the sugarcoated Trolls gets Trolls World Tour. In this somewhat follow-on, the troll-hungry Bergens from the first film have been completely forgotten, as the happy little residents of Troll Town go on about their happy, singing business. Yet they soon discover that everything they knew is a lie! It turns out that they are not the trolls, but merely some trolls - in particular, pop trolls. It seems that there are many kinds of trolls, defined by musical genre, who were once all unified but then separated into divided lands, each possessing one of the magical musical strings from which all tunes are derived. Yet the hard rock trolls (sigh, yes, of course it's heavy metal that represents the no-fun villains) are out to unify the strings. Queen Barb (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Bloom) is rampaging through the different lands in a fleet of ships that look like someone tried to recreate Dethklok's Hatredcopter in Little Big Planet, and it's up to the ever-optimistic Queen Poppy (Kendrick) and her lovestruck best friend Branch (Timberlake) to try to save the day.
It's all dull in a different way to the other recent toy-shilling animation, the equally cloying UglyDolls. That script crammed the eponymous UglyDolls into a generic "learn to love your flaws" story but at least had some charming moments of design and comedy. Trolls World Tour sprints at an equally generic "our differences brings us together" narrative, but it's so clunkily told that it never really hangs together - so much so that it falls over its own multitudinous points. Woefully overstuffed within its 90 minute runtime, never capable of settling on any one story, and sprinting from musical land to land without any reason other than filling boxes on the checklist, the story is like the endless karaoke playlist snippets of songs that fill the soundtrack. There's a little of everything (possibly the fault of the five scriptwriter and two "story by" credits), but it doesn't add up to much.
Maybe that's the point, and maybe it's to Trolls World Tour's benefit (or at least that of its adult audiences) that it's so piecemeal. As the first big release of 2020 to lose its theatrical release in favor of VOD to coronavirus closures, at least parents don't have to watch the whole movie. You can stick your kids in front of it while you go about your day, nod as you recognize a song or two, marvel at the licensing nightmare this must have involved, and then ask yourself why, in 2020, a major studio thinks that "rock" means the Scorpions and Heart's "Barracuda." Of course the selections were going to be safe, but there's safe and then there's classic rock drivetime dreariness. Then again, pop is represented by the Spice Girls and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, giving the soundtrack the feel of a Kidz Bop reboot of I Love the '90s.
Worst of all, as much as this will be a welcome escape for small kids (and a distraction for parents), it's a frustration that Kendrick is back in this kind of easy, cookie-cutter, disposable frippery. She does it so well, but she can also carry a subversive slice of sparkly noir like A Simple Favor, or more than hold her own in a complicated character piece like Drinking Buddies. Honestly, her heartrending performance as the betrayed wife in The Last Five Years was proof that the musical shouldn't be dead as a meaningful part of contemporary cinema.
If it's this or Frozen 2 for the 50th time this week, maybe it's best that some things never change.