Trolls World Tour Review: Deranged Charm Rises Above a Totally Forgettable Story

There's a trend in Hollywood of turning any remotely nostalgic toy or gadget into a feature-film franchise and it's already pretty exhausting. These ventures are rarely more than a gimmicky ploy with a thinly conceived story, filled to the brim with tired pop culture references and cheap jokes, the obvious exception to this rule being 2013's The LEGO Movie. Even the first Trolls movie, which fared better at the box office than many other toy-to-screen adaptations, seemed more like a dull and lifeless trick than an attempt at sincere filmmaking. Enter Trolls World Tour, the sequel with a premise even weaker than the original that is coming straight to on-demand platforms due to the coronavirus pandemic shuttering theaters. It was destined to be a chore for anyone over the age of six from the time it was announced. However, against all odds, Trolls World Tour is a substantial step up from its predecessor, embracing its inner absurdity to deliver something that's actually worth your time.

Trolls World Tour picks up after the events of the first film, with Poppy (Anna Kendrick) serving as queen of the Pop Trolls and Branch (Justin Timberlake) hanging around by her side, reluctant to tell his best friend that he actually has romantic feelings for her. Poppy and her pals soon learn that the Troll kingdom is much bigger than they actually realized, consisting of six different groups of Trolls, each representing a different kind of music — pop, classical, funk, country, techno, and rock. Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) of the Rock Trolls wants to take over the entire kingdom, stealing the music and life-giving string from each part of the kingdom, uniting them all under the rule of hard rock. It's Poppy's job to stop her and save Troll life as she knows it.

This is a simple plot that is made entirely too over-the-top by its reliance on well-known music and the stereotypes that come with it. On top of that, everything is made even more complicated by a multitude of side stories that crowd the narrative and make things difficult to care about. Poppy and Branch have their own issues going on, Cooper is trying to find the family he believes is out there, Barb is trying to wrestle with her own issues; the list goes on and on. There are way too many layers for a basic tale that doesn't remotely require them in order to work. It's just messy.

Somehow, in the midst of all that mess, Trolls World Tour finds a way to work. Its off-the-wall antics are often charming, in the most utterly unhinged sort of way. The film transitions from a cleanly animated world of color to a cut-out panorama of tiger and unicorn memes come to life (on purpose!). That kind of thing usually fills me with rage and frustration, but it makes sense within the universe of these walking Troll dolls. The premise of their existence as toys is weird in and of itself, and this film actually understands that. Four-legged country-singing Trolls using their brightly colored mustaches as lassos? Why not!

trolls world tour dreamworks
(Photo: DreamWorks Animation)

Trolls World Tour accepts itself for the absurd thing that it is, which is one of the underlying narratives of the entire movie. Poppy wants every part of the Troll Kingdom to come back together and live in harmony, claiming that they're all exactly the same at their core. But that's not the case; they're all different, and they should have the chance to embrace and appreciate those differences. This provides a great level of meta storytelling that is desperately needed in a franchise like Trolls, as well as a deeply interesting commentary on how pop music stole from every genre that came before it.

Speaking of the music, the songs in Trolls World Tour are far less aggravating than those in the first movie. Many are just reworked versions of real songs, but at least some of the lyrics are changed to make them different for the film, rather than just creating a 90-minute karaoke session. And thank God for Anderson Paak, who voiced the prince of the Funk Trolls and helped create most of the film's music. Enormously talented in his own musical ventures, Paak took the bland pop of Trolls and found innovating ways to make it sound fresh throughout. It's just a shame that his phenomenal single with Timberlake, "Don't Slack," is reserved for the credits.

Trolls World Tour isn't some groundbreaking achievement in animated cinema. It's a sequel to a movie about living and breathing Troll dolls, so the ceiling is only so high. But in its ability to embrace its own irreverent nature, Trolls World Tour proves itself to be solid entertainment.

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Rating: 3 out of 5

Trolls World Tour is now available to rent on digital platforms.

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