REVIEW: Trolls [2016]

Score: 4/10 | ★ ½

Rating: PG | Runtime: 92 minutes | Release Date: November 4th, 2016 (USA)
Studio: DreamWorks Animation / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Walt Dohrn & Mike Mitchell
Writer(s): Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger / Erica Rivinoja (story) /
Thomas Dam (creator Good Luck Trolls)

“I think I had sarcasm once”

Depending on what you read, the genesis of Trolls is quite fascinating as original director Anand Tucker was to helm an adaptation of Terry Pratchett‘s Bromeliad trilogy about tiny humanoids in 2010. Did that project ultimately evolve into the glitter vomit Walt Dohrn and Mike Mitchell provide us today? Maybe. I personally hope that project was simply canceled so Tucker could subsequently shift over to Trolls in 2012 as a brand new journey. I don’t want to discover the opposite—that his work on Pratchett’s source material got studio executives reminiscing about Thomas Dam‘s Danish Good Luck Trolls enough to retool the entire thing—because it would only prove Hollywood has no faith in its audience beyond bombarding it with colors, remixed music, and cupcake feces for success.

Sadly this latter scenario seems to make the most sense considering Dreamworks didn’t even secure the rights to the Dam Family’s crazy haired, dead-eyed plastic figurines until 2013. Only then was Erica Rivinoja hired to transform whatever Tucker started into the musical comedy Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger ultimately wrote. Tucker and Pratchett were completely excised along with the potential for something unique. In its place: yet another lazy rendition of Cinderella, this time remixed with “Smurfs” and “Cyrano de Bergerac” to engross children through ADHD-fueled editing. It’s as though a psychologist figured out the perfect formula to engage today’s youth with abbreviated random bits of hilarity and loud noises regardless of a cohesive or demanding plot. And we wonder why millennials grow up devoid of attention spans.

This film is a mess because it’s really a music video produced by Justin Timberlake. He’s mashed together songs from multiple eras (along with a catchy new ditty in search of Oscar glory) that the screenwriters weakly built their story around. This isn’t a musical like Into the Woods with plot and dialogue turned into song. It isn’t one in the vein of Moulin Rouge! either where appropriated music already burned into our subconscious is ingeniously given new life as plot and dialogue. No, Trolls is at best a Bollywood-transplant with interludes that have little to no bearing on anything besides forcing kids to tap their feet and get brainwashed into thinking what’s onscreen has substance. Most provide montages of impossible plot progression merely to inject more insanity.

The film therefore treats children as consumers rather than audience members. It supplies a mass produced dessert full of artificial preservatives that places a fleeting smile on their faces and an addiction to the drug of hollow pop culture pastiche in their veins. While Trolls hopes to tap into the irreverent humor that made “Ren & Stimpy” and “SpongeBob SquarePants” classics, it only achieves a façade devoid of substance beneath. There’s no going back to this movie in ten years with a clear head of young adulthood to discover comedy that went over their heads as children. The only way this thing has relevancy beyond empty caloric distraction is to revisit it with a bag of psychedelics. I don’t see another way to find meaning in its garishness.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t an attempt to deliver heartfelt morality or cheesy messages like “everyone’s beautiful for who they are” or “happiness exists within us, not as a result of external forces”. Aibel and Berger do their best to infuse their shallow bits and gags with these ambitions, but they’re never allowed to take control as the pair’s main intent. Instead they barely register before an irrelevant punch line comes from behind to elicit a giggle with sheer blunt force trauma. Even the climactic moment where the monochromatic grey of depression turns to the vibrancy of love is subverted by the blasting of “True Colors” (made famous by Cyndi Lauper). Nothing “true” is allowed to sink in previous to its transformation into the next piece of artifice.

We don’t even end up caring about the Trolls as a species since they’re stupid and deserve to die via natural selection. Twenty years ago—led by King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor)—they actually escaped the clutches of evil monsters known as Bergens. These depressive creatures are ill-equipped to experience happiness unless they find and eat Trolls. Their holiday Trollstice was thus manufactured to ingest joy once every year. So Peppy organized an exodus with a fire and determination you seek in leadership. But as our own youth grows complacent thanks to parents who fear showing them the same darkly substantive art they were raised watching, the next generation of Trolls led by Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) embraced unearned entitlement and hubris over historic precedent.

They throw a massive soirée to celebrate freedom, ignorant that this level of exuberance is exactly the type of thing the Bergen’s Troll Chef (Christine Baranski) and new King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) need to hear/see where their new home is. Killjoy Branch (Timberlake) is the only one with the wherewithal to prepare for such horrors and yet he’s dismissed as “weird” rather than heroic. It’s he who ultimately needs to be “saved” by Poppy’s vapid desire to be liked by all, not the other way around. Call me a buzz-kill, but this development was irksome because it actually tells children not to be unique. You may save us with your outside-the-box thinking, but you’ll never be happy unless you’re one of us. I wanted to them to perish.

So I checked out on the Trolls themselves early, hoping the music and sporadic bits embracing the dolls’ inherent creepiness would get me by. Luckily the “Cyrano de Bergerac” portion arrived so I could finally care about a character: Zooey Deschanel‘s Bridget, a Bergen scullery maid. She’s in love with the King and has the power to prove happiness exists without eating a species of humanoids (despite the case made to rid us of their stupidity). Without Bridget Trolls is completely devoid of intellectual redemption. I can’t therefore recommend the film to anyone not tripping on hallucinogens. But I also can’t deny the surface pizzazz’s ability to engage youngsters so parents can have a 90-minute break. And besides its creatively animated “scrapbook” reveries, the aesthetic is disposable nonsense too.

[1] From left: Poppy’s best friends Fuzzbert, Guy Diamond (voiced by Kunal Nayyar), Smidge (voiced by Walt Dohrn), Mr. Dinkles, Biggie (voiced by James Corden), Cooper (voiced by Ron Funches), DJ Suki (voiced by Gwen Stefani) and The Fashion Twins, Satin & Chenille (voiced by Aino Jaiwo and Caroline Hjelt of Icona Pop) in DreamWorks Animation’s TROLLS. Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation – DreamWorks Trolls © 2016 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.
[2] From left: Trolls King Peppy (voiced by Jeffrey Tambor), Cooper (voiced by Ron Funches) and Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) are confronted by the fearsome Bergen Chef (voiced by Christine Baranski) in DreamWorks Animation’s TROLLS. Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation – DreamWorks Trolls © 2016 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Relentlessly upbeat—if slightly naïve—troll Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) sets off to rescue her friends, the Snack Pack, in DreamWorks Animation’s TROLLS. Photo Credit: DreamWorks Trolls © 2016 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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