Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Do you like things that are positively, unabashedly upbeat? How about explosions of color? What are your feelings on all things warm and fuzzy? Well, DreamWorks Animation’s TROLLS is going to be your new jam come November. Yes, those ugly/ cute dolls with the wild hair, stubby legs, bulbous bellies and outstretched arms, decades after their popularity, have gotten their own film – and, even more shocking, it actually looks adorably fun.
We got a sneak peek at about twenty minutes of footage and let me just say it was like someone shot a multicolor glitter-filled cannon directly into our eyeballs and then we snorted the leftover glitter. Believe it or not, this is a compliment. And that’s not just the glitter high talkin’!
10. World building is expansive. Though the dolls – invented by Thomas Dam back in the 60’s as a Christmas gift for his kids – have been around since becoming popular in Europe the 1960’s, there wasn’t much lore or background directors Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn had to adhere to. This allowed them to create a whole new world populated by (what I’m calling them) those Dam Dolls. “There was no fairy tale. No story. It was really exciting,” said Dohrn, who also voices a scene-stealing cloud in the film. Mitchell concurred, “It was a clean slate. One thing that we knew we definitely needed to do, one thing that remained with the troll that was so iconic was that hair. There is this innate happiness of this doll in its expression. The story came out of that.”
9. TROLLS aesthetic was inspired by 70’s design. Mitchell said, “We took the technology and decided to apply different textures to the real world. We made a forest, but we gave it the textures of felt. We wanted it to look handmade – like carpet. Even our characters look like Gummi Bears that have been flocked in velvet. When you watch it, you’ll see it has this ‘fuzzy immersion.’ In the 70’s, people were working with felt and it was a very handcrafted era. We really wanted to get back to that feel.”
8. Irreverent comedy is at the forefront. Mitchell mentioned the things that will appeal to all audiences are all of the musical eras it spans and “super irreverent comedy like what Walt and I did in SHREK – jokes where a Dad will laugh and looks down at his 8-year-old daughter and she’s laughing at the same joke. I think that’s magic.”
7. TROLLS was always thought of as a musical. It’s even structured similar to that of a musical. Mitchell said, “It was exciting for us because we always loved musicals, but we wanted to do one in a non-traditional sense. It was a challenge to get those songs to keep the narrative momentum going.” Timberlake said, “For a musical like this, to take these classic toys and really modernize them, that was our M.O. with the music as well. It fits with the humor. [My] job was to make it sound unique – like it belongs in the scene much like musical theater.” One original song star Anna Kendrick, who voices a perpetually perky pink troll named Poppy, sings is the catchy AF anthem “Get Back Up Again,” written by Pasek and Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, LA LA LAND). She said, “We wanted something that was like the ‘I Want’ song. That’s one of those Broadway things. It’s her ‘I Want’ song.”
6. Happiness is the theme – and everything sprung from that concept. Mitchell explained, “We wanted to make a movie, not only where the world was unique, but we wanted to serve up happiness to the world.” Dohrn elucidated, “How do you get it? How do you lose it? This was the story discussion we had with our writers. We really used the theme to inform the colors, the character design, the look of the film, the music.” Mitchell added, “Especially when this movie comes out, the world’s going to need a little happiness.”
5. Music is bright, cheerful and, at times, introspective. A few of the clips we saw featured already established hits like Junior Senior’s “Move Your Feet,” Mama Cass’ “Dream A Little Dream,” Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound Of Silence,” and Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” They even manage to work in a few mash-ups too. The hugely musical film also features a handful of original songs courtesy of the soundtrack’s executive music producer Justin Timberlake, who voices Branch, a doomsday-ist troll who is strictly against singing and dancing. And his current chartbuster, “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” comes into play in the film’s third act. He said of his new role, “I came on a little after the songs were sought after and cleared. I wrote four original songs. I’ve never done anything like that as well. A lot of music has a little bit of a 70’s funk to it. That was definitely an inspiration. You want to sonically compliment [the animation].” Kendrick said Timberlake’s singing skills were necessary in getting the best out of her during their sessions. “He gives such specific notes that were so helpful. It just tightened it so much. We got so much heart and mischief and sass for her.”
4. Taking on the classics was nerve-wracking for Justin Timberlake. “I was very nervous. I remember, the whole time I was doing the recording process [on ‘”True Colors”], I was thinking, ‘What is Cyndi going to think?’ I still don’t know,” said Timberlake. Kendrick felt acting helped cushion, “I do think though that having an acting objective makes it easier for me. When I’m singing it in the movie, I’m thinking about what we have to accomplish for the story, it sort of distracts from that. It gives me a simpler intention.
3. Guy Diamond is the MVP. Hear me now and believe me later, that all glitter/ all sparkle nude troll will be this film’s breakout star and most coveted doll sold at the toy store. Mitchell said, “He was invented in the 90’s. He’s of the tribe that doesn’t wear clothes. They have a lot of body confidence. That was one of the biggest challenges for the film.” Dohrn picked up, “The computer couldn’t understand the glitter.”
2. Poppy is a positive female heroine. After Poppy’s joyful noise attracts the Bergens (a giant, ogre-like race who eat trolls) to her community’s secluded hideaway, she and Branch must go on a quest to rescue her friends, delightfully nicknamed by the directors as “the snack pack.” It’s a very dangerous mission as it’s a small girl going to a big town.
1. TROLLS’ alpaca-looking troll sh*ts cupcakes. Do I need to explain more? This is the moment that completely sold me – and you too. See it for the color. Stay for the animated ass muffins.
TROLLS opens on November 4.