Looked at from afar, there’s really nothing to suggest that “Trolls” is going to be anything other than an overt cash grab. After all, it’s a movie based on a line of toys. So, it’s a pleasant surprise to report that “Trolls” is a charming bit of animation, full of lively music and good vibes. You won’t be enraptured by the story, but you’ll probably smile a whole lot. “Trolls” is certainly meant for children, but between the classic songs utilized in the film and the occasion moments of sheer oddness, it manages not to completely exclude adults. Don’t discount that quality, either.
Full disclosure, I went into “Trolls” kind of dreading it. This is the sort of thing that you’d initially think was a sign of Hollywood being even more out of ideas than usual. As such, it was very nice to see that this wasn’t just another way to market a toy. Furthermore, it’s the sort of kids movie that isn’t painful for a non-minor to sit through. I’m hammering that point home because aside from Pixar, few studios are managing to cater to small children while not ignoring adults. Fox has been guilty of this before, but with “Trolls”, they’re able to thread the proverbial needle.
The story is simple enough. It centers around Trolls, who are happy-go-lucky creatures, and the sad Bergens, who only feel happiness through the consumption of Trolls. This is a yearly ritual, considered a full on holiday. One year, the Trolls escape the land of Bergens, leading to a 20 year period of rejoicing. However, the overt joy of Poppy (voice of Anna Kendrick) winds up letting the Bergens know where they are. Chef (voice of Christine Baranski) kidnaps a number of Trolls, hoping to amass power by feeding them to King Gristle (voice of Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Unwilling to let that happen, Poppy recruits a reticent Branch (voice of Justin Timberlake) to help lead a rescue mission. You can connect the dots from there.
There’s some charming voice work on display here, from top to bottom, though it really shines at the top. Kudos for casting Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake in lead roles, considering their vocal chops. Kendrick is perfectly cast, bringing a lively energy, spunk, and the voice needed to make Poppy charm instead of annoy you. Timberlake has the right level of sarcasm for the part, and obviously when he sings, he’s in a big comfort zone. They also share some strong chemistry, which always helps, considering they’re the main characters. Christine Baranski chews the scenery with joy, while Christopher Mintz-Plasse is fine but underutilized.
The rest of the cast here is a rather diverse group. We have Russell Brand, Zooey Deschanel, and Jeffrey Tambor in pretty sizable supporting parts. There’s also John Cleese, James Corden, Ron Funches, Kunal Nayyar, Gwen Stefani, and Quvenzhané Wallis, among others. They all manage to contribute something, though of this group, Deschanel fares the best. Kendrick is best in show overall, with Timberlake certainly solid as well, but that doesn’t take away from anyone else. It’s a strong ensemble, if not one you want to heap awards upon. They all just do their jobs and seemingly have a lot of fun in the process.
Filmmakers Walt Dohrn and Mike Mitchell clearly just want to bring joy to their audience. Along with scribes Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, and Erica Rivinoja, Dorhn and Mitchell tackle every element of “Trolls” with the hope of making you smile. Part of that is a colorful and vibrant visual style. The other part is a story that’s fairly slight and goes down easy. The direction trumps the writing though, that much is clear. Being colorful and odd on occasion helps that out. For example, there’s some interesting things done with glitter that could be interpreted in a few ways, though I’ll leave that for you to discover.
The best part of “Trolls” is undoubtedly the music. Any resistance to this flick goes away by the time the last song kicks in. Timberlake’s hit tune “Can’t Stop The Feeling” is well utilized and does come at the perfect time. There’s also some unusual classic song choices throughout, which I certainly appreciated. The score from Christophe Beck is fairly forgettable, but the songs help to overcome that small ding. In everything but name, this is a musical, which is one of the reasons it succeeds. Where the plot and writing are unspectacular, the music gets you to groove in your seat.
Overall, “Trolls” is a fun cartoon that will absolutely delight kids and sufficiently entertain their parents as well. You’ll almost assuredly hear children singing along to the big song, potentially even seeing them dance as well. That’s the sort of charm that is featured here. There’s a lack of creativity in terms of the plot, though the periodic doses of weirdness help to make up for that. You can’t go in thinking you’re getting anything transgressive like “The LEGO Movie“, but this isn’t the nadir of toy adaptations like “Transformers” either. “Trolls” is a good time at the movies for the entire family.
“Trolls” is distributed by 20th Century Fox and is scheduled to hit theaters everywhere on Nov. 4.