Thursday, November 3, 2016

Review: "Trolls"

“Trolls” is bright, colorful, snappy and a chore to sit through. It’s one of those animated films crafted exclusively for little kids, who will enjoy it immensely, while anyone who counts their age in double digits will find themselves tapping their foot… and not necessarily to the pop tunes sung by the neon-haired little critters.

Yes, this is a musical based on the ubiquitous troll dolls, which are now owned by DreamWorks Animation. They tapped Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake to voice the main characters, and Timberlake also wrote a song and executive produced the music, which is a mix of modern beats and vintage pop hits.

The story seems like the barest contrivance wrapped around the talent.

Director Mike Mitchell and co-director Walt Dohrn, along with script men Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, set out with a simple idea in mind: assault the audience with cuteness. Every time we think the movie’s going to wander into a dark area, it’s quickly shoved back into the light by a song or spray of goofiness.

It’s almost like the film is bipolar; it can’t stand to be glum for even a moment.

Certainly that is the contrast between Princess Poppy (Kendrick), the pink-haired leader of the trolls, and Branch (Timberlake), the tribe’s resident Debbie Downer. He’s the only troll who has muted tones to his skin and hair, and eschews the singing, dancing and hugging -- every hour; they set their clocks by it -- that comprise troll culture.

Twenty years ago the trolls were the captives of the Bergens, nasty giant creatures who hate their lives and each other, and everything. One day of the Bergen calendar is set aside for happiness, Trollstice, when they get to eat trolls and know joy. But the brave troll king (Jeffrey Tambor) led a mass escape, and since then it’s been one long party.

The Bergens aren’t too happy about it, especially Chef (Christine Baranski), who prepared the troll meal and enjoyed wielding power. He manages to capture a handful of trolls after Poppy organizes an ill-advised party complete with fireworks, so she and Branch undertake a rescue mission.

The trolls look pretty much like the toys, though without those weird lifeless eyes. Their hair has magical properties -- Poppy is the best hair twirler, able to grab stuff and even create shapes with her ‘do. The supporting characters include twins whose hair is connected, a big friendly fella, one who looks like a troll lama and a silver guy who is always covered in glitter and is naked.

They make it to Bergentown, where things take a (not terribly) unexpected turn. The young Bergen king, Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), is thrilled about finally getting his first taste of troll. Meanwhile, the scullery maid, Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), secretly pines for him and enlists the trolls’ help in capturing the heart of her rotund little Romeo.

(Odd aside: the Bergens look a lot like the Boxtrolls from the much better film from a couple years ago.)

It all falls into place with a sense of inevitability. The Bergens will learn you don’t need to eat a sentient being to find happiness, and the mopey Branch -- who refuses to sing -- will eventually find his voice, and his true hue.

“Trolls” isn’t a bad movie -- just not a very ambitious one. Take away the big names and top-drawer animation, and it’s not much of a step up from what you’d see while channel surfing past Disney Junior or Nick Jr.

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