Trolls: World Tour is a film that will not be remembered on its own terms by those in the movie industry. Its status is now as a sort of candy-coloured guinea pig — a canary in the coal mine of straight-to-digital blockbuster releasing. If Trolls dies in its cage, it might be the last big film to debut in this way. But if it sings, delighted, as bags of cash are shipped in to the Universal offices, it could set a tone for the years to come — even post-pandemic.
But Trolls isn’t a movie that ever had pretensions at boundary-pushing. It is every inch a production line slice of hyperactive silliness designed solely to prevent kids from bouncing off walls or making TikTok videos — can you tell I’m out of touch? — for a few hours. With all that said though, just like its predecessor, Trolls: World Tour is likeable and fun enough that it emerges smelling of candy canes. So many candy canes.
Poppy (Anna Kendrick) is now the queen of the troll kingdom, with Branch (Justin Timberlake) as her uptight associate — and, in his mind at least, romantic interest. She receives an invitation one day from Barb (Rachel Bloom), queen of the Hard Rock Trolls, and subsequently learns that there are other trolls, living in isolated factions depending on musical taste. Barb is claiming to want to unite the tribes once again, but really she wants to force them all to listen only to “real music”.
It’s a mad concept and one that provides plenty of opportunities for fun, though the presence of five credited screenwriters means that much of that opportunity is squandered in a somewhat mixed soup of storytelling. The central conceit sees Barb capturing the various guitar strings that house the musical power of each troll tribe, in order to create a sort of Infinity Guitar that, when played, will either eradicate half the universe or homogenise music. It’s not quite clear.
With so much plot, it’s almost quite impressive how much time Trolls: World Tour is able to spend just spewing music and rainbows like a sort of demented kids’ party DJ. A truly relentless opening musical montage spans at least five minutes and almost the entirety of the last few Now! That’s What I Call Music! CDs in an onslaught of colour and sound that’s akin to melting down a Smarties factory and injecting it into a unicorn. And though a lot of fun is had with some of the other styles — Country Troll leader Kelly Clarkson croons a super-morbid ballad — it’s the Pop Trolls who get centre stage over and over again.
Much like its predecessor, Trolls: World Tour comes with a very simple allegory at its heart. We shouldn’t be “intolerant” of others, no matter how different they are – “we’re all trolls,” says Poppy when she first learns of the schism. Sadly, though, this is an idea the film periodically loses interest in, not least when a plot development also dealt with in Frozen 2 is completely ignored here, despite its potentially seismic impact.
It seems churlish to complain too much about plot, though, when the film is such a joy. Anna Kendrick’s sparky voice performance boasts flawless comic delivery and nails the inherent optimism of Poppy, as well as the immense sadness she feels whenever that worldview is challenged. Rachel Bloom’s fiercely ideological Queen Barb is a great addition to the cast with her casual evil, as well as the presence of Ozzy Osbourne – obviously – as her ageing rocker dad.
Directing duo Walt Dohrn – returning from the first film – and David P. Smith consistently inject colour and visual invention into every frame. Both Trolls films are a feast of psychedelic insanity, and World Tour leans even further into this aesthetic to construct a series of set pieces that are no doubt every bit as delirious on the small screen as they would’ve been in the cinema.
So, in short, it’s weird that Trolls: World Tour has attained the level of industry significance that it has. It’s a relatively enjoyable follow-up to a relatively enjoyable first film that lacks any sort of thematic depth and chooses to instead replace that potential nuance with Top 40 pop hits. And, on the strength of this tailor-made slice of Easter holiday time-filler, that’s not really a bad thing at all.
Dir: Walt Dohrn, David P. Smith
Scr: Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Elizabeth Tippet, Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Prd: Gina Shay
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Run time: 91 mins
Trolls: World Tour is available on digital platforms in the UK now.