I had one of those little plastic troll dolls. I recently trashed it in an effort to purge stuff from my childhood bedroom. The doll was short and naked and dirty and had wild hair shooting out of its scalp. Who knew that just a few months later, I’d be sorry I let it go? It could have been a collectors’ item! My hindsight (along with a twinge of nostalgia) was provoked by Dreamworks’ new animated movie, Trolls. It’s far from a classic-in-the-making, but it is entertaining, even if the premise is somewhat appalling (in a Hunger Games meets Shrek of way). The colors are bright, the music is infectious, the writing is witty, and it’s got a happy ending. Hot lunch! (inside joke)
Here’s the gist: Trolls are colorful creatures who are always happy – except when they’re being hunted by the dreaded Bergens who believe that the only way they can experience happiness is to eat trolls. The Bergens created an annual holiday called “Trollstice” during which time the head “Chef” (voiced by Christine Baranski) would serve up trolls – and happiness – to the depressed people. One year, the trolls manage to escape and flee underground. Chef is disgraced and exiled. Fast-forward 20 years, and the trolls get a bit carried away with their freedom celebrations and reveal themselves to the nefarious Chef. She snatches a bunch of trolls and prepares to bring back the feast of the Trollstice! One of the trolls, the optimistic and peppy Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) organizes a rescue mission and enlists the help of the only grumpy troll of the bunch, Branch (Justin Timberlake). They meet Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), a scullery maid to Chef who strikes a deal with the trolls. Bridget will help the trolls escape, if they can help her find happiness with the object of her unrequited love, King Gristle Jr. (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
Trolls is at its best during the musical numbers. The movie slows down a bit between songs, and the void is most apparent when the story takes a brief dark turn. I found myself begging for the next musical number when a distressed little girl in my row started to sob uncontrollably. Sing, dammit, sing! And they did. Phew!
The animation is visually appealing in color and character (Baranski’s likeness is especially spot on), and the supporting cast of voices includes the spirited Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, John Cleese, James Corden, and Jeffrey Tambor. The highlight, however, is definitely the awesome soundtrack. It includes Justin Timberlake’s catchy new tune, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” as well as Trollific takes on classic songs from the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Lionel Ritchie, and Cyndi Lauper.
I don’t see Trolls rising to the level of Dreamworks’ mega-hit Shrek, but it is a smart and funny flick that adults can enjoy with the kids. I laughed out loud at several borderline-inappropriate cracks that – thankfully – flew over the littler heads. No need to see it in 3D.