The word “troll” has so many different connotations. Whether it conjures pictures of hilariously bad horror movies or people anonymously spewing anger all over the Internet, trolls have moved far past their origins as ugly creatures of Scandinavian folklore. That also includes being known in pop culture as cute collectible dolls with wild hair. Cute being a relative term, of course, as Troll Dolls are still somewhat ugly. The popularity of Troll Dolls seems to rise and fall every few years or so. When a Troll Craze kicks in, people are quick to buy dolls and they are seen everywhere. Then overexposure kicks in, people get sick of them, and the dolls are quickly forgotten, only to spring up again years later like some sort of strange nostalgic reincarnation cycle. Since it’s been about a decade since the short-lived Trollz animated series, now’s a good a time as any for Trolls to make their comeback. This time it’s on the big screen with the help of DreamWorks Animation and loads of musical talent.
Trolls have a strong enough pop culture resonance that seeing a Troll doll will elicit the response, “Yeah, I remember those,” but not enough that anyone actually knows their backstory. Are they good guys like friendly little elves? Are they mischievous like gremlins? Why can some of them grant wishes? It doesn’t matter, the movie plainly explains what their deal is. Trolls are tiny creatures who spend all day being happy and expressing it through song, dance, and hourly hugs. Their hair can change shape and texture. Unfortunately for them, they have a natural predator. The Bergen are large, sour creatures who believe eating Trolls is the only way to feel happy, doing so on a holiday called Trollstice. They’re not unlike the Gorgs to the Trolls’ Fraggles or even Gargamel to the Smurfs. And apparently, like many other small, human-like woodland creatures, the Trolls live in a hidden village in the woods in hopes that the Bergen won’t find them. The Trolls live happily and without fear except for Branch (Justin Timberlake), whose worry and paranoia causes him to think about nothing other than what he believes is an inevitable Bergen attack. The Troll Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick), on the other hand, embraces the Troll lifestyle and loves singing and making scrapbooks. One of her parties ends up being so loud it brings the Bergen to their doorstep, and when several of her friends get captured, she has to team up with Branch to rescue them.
Thus begins of an odd quest through an extremely off-putting world. The Trolls themselves are weird enough, with their wild hair and the ability to shoot glitter out of every orifice, but there’s much more to what dwells in the forest. From spiders that spin yarn to vegetation with teeth, everything in here feels like it jumped out of a demented Dr. Seuss nightmare. Every creature seems to be trying to devour every other creature, and at one point, Poppy and Branch have to match wits with a talking cloud with arms and legs. It’s a bit much, but thankfully, the world becomes more grounded when the trolls enter Bergentown. There’s a nice contrast between the brightness of the Trolls and the miserable color palette and overall tone of the Bergens. It’s there we meet a sympathetic Bergen named Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), who goes through a bit of a Cinderella story that intersects with Poppy’s mission, and the movie finally leaves behind its nonsense and gains a bit of substance.
The movie is obviously meant to be fun, and there are lots of great gags involving the characters and their comments and reactions to the situations. Although it doesn’t overly rely on modern slang, there’s a lot of that in there as well, and despite everyone in the cast being at least 20, the characters all behave like teenagers. Thankfully, there aren’t a lot of hair puns either. The humor’s great and all, but the real draw of the movie is the music. Boasting the contributions of Gwen Stefani and Ariana Grande in addition to Justin Timberlake himself, the movie sounds amazing. I was expecting there to be more original music, and the soundtrack has loads of covers, but they’ve got great singers in the cast. None of the songs are forced, especially since it’s clearly established how much trolls love to sing. The lyrics themselves fit the plot of the story well and enhance both the humor and the more serious bits. Although it leans a lot on the humor, even using jokes to accompany the sadder songs, the movie never gets too depressing but comes close a couple times. You have to just sort of accept the fact that the Trolls (and some Bergen for that matter) even know the likes of Lionel Richie, Earth Wind & Fire, or Bonnie Tyler, but if you can get past that, you can enjoy it. The big draw is Timberlake’s song for the film, “Can’t Stop This Feeling!”, that was released earlier this year. It’s energetic, catchy, and fits the tone of the film perfectly. It’s everything a movie like this could want from a signature song.
At first glance Trolls looks like a gimmick movie to sell music and new Troll Doll characters, and while that is undeniably a strong part of it, there’s certainly more to it than what the trailers would have you believe. There’s depth, the characters feel real, and almost everyone is adorable in their own way. There are truly some bizarre bits to the movie, but it’ll keep the kids’ attention, and there’s a strong effort in putting together the soundtrack, so, the Trolls have a shot at reclaiming their name and having another boost in their popularity. At least until people get sick of them again and they have to go back under a bridge or hide in a forest or wherever it is they’re supposed to be from.