Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, 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
TROLLS | 1h 32min | PG
Directed by: Mike Mitchell, Walt Dohrn
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski, Zooey Deschanel, James Corden, Gwen Stefani, Kunal Nayyar, Ron Funches
“Trolls” is a name that not only defines provocatively ignorant internet jerkwads, but also, on the opposite end of the spectrum, fun-loving, positively peppy dolls from a bygone era. Directors Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn’s TROLLS sets out to pivot our zeitgeist’s association with the term from the former, more prevalent urban dictionary meaning to the latter, which posits all things wonderful, lovely and cheery. Buoyed by narrative charm, sweet sentiment and tap-your-feet, dance-in-your seat musical effervescence, the animated film is like mainlining a rainbow, snorting Martha Stewart-brand glitter and drinking a glass of ecstasy-spiked champagne. Basically, you’ll get a high off all the happy.
Trolls are an intrinsically happy race. They value optimism above all else. Their foes – giant, evil goblins called “the Bergens” – do not. They are miserable, jealous creatures, who seek to steal the Trolls’ joy by devouring it once a year on the holiday of “Trollstice.” But as the Bergens’ celebration is about to commence, their food flees Bergen Town, finding respite deep in the forest. 20 years later, however, perpetually perky pink troll Princess Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and her positive peeps party too hard and attract a Gargamel-esque Bergen chef (voiced by Christine Baranski) to their secluded hideaway. After a few of Poppy’s pals are captured, she launches a rescue mission – and she needs the help of doomsayer troll Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake).
One ticket to pure elation, please! While Mitchell and Dohrn, along with producer/ screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, gift us with a colorful chosen one storyline, they disguise it enough so it’s not obnoxious. World-building is key and they’ve created an absorbing one. They also do a solid job giving Poppy and Branch equal footing (hooray feminism!) story-wise, despite Branch experiencing the most overt change. The philosophies it espouses are great for young kids to learn and parents to remember – smart lessons like the hollowness of instant gratification, or not selfishly stealing others’ happiness for your own, or getting back up again after failure (as sung in the catchy AF Pasek and Paul-penned anthem “Get Back Up Again”), or one voice inciting lasting change in many. It’s also gratifying that the transformative power of the Trolls’ hair isn’t used for contrivance.
Animation is tactile and transfixing – even in the inevitable dim of the 3-D glasses. Characters are colorful – not just narratively, but also physically. They look adorable and cozy with their flocked velvet-soft skin and magical, up-combed hair. Further animated dimension is added with Poppy’s scrapbooked segments, where felt cutouts play under narration. Plus, this film would feel whole lot emptier if not for the decade-spanning soundtrack, filled with tunes from Junior Senior, Mama Cass, Gorillaz, Simon & Garfunkel, Lionel Richie and Cyndi Lauper. It augments the narrative, but never overstays its welcome.
In addition to its two heroes, TROLLS also contains a rainbow-barfing cloud (voiced by Mitchell), a cupcake-sh*tting alpaca (voiced by Ron Funches) and an exhibitionist glitter-farting troll (voiced by Kunal Nayyar). Is there anything not to love?! Well, a couple of itty-bitty things. The idea that scullery maid Bridget (voiced by Zooey Deschanel) needs a makeover to get Prince Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to fall in love with her doesn’t fill my heart with joy. It is a nice gesture that Poppy reaches out to help, but at a cost. Though the inappropriateness at adult humor made me laugh (specifically the “I had a sarcasm once” line), it may strike some as out of place tonally. Things lose a bit of steam by the third act, relying on some exposition when it should trust its audience to understand Branch and Poppy’s motivations for change.
Honestly, sometimes evaluating a film’s quality is all about how it made you feel. And during these dour, dark times, TROLLS delivers the exact type of glee we need to feed our souls. It envelopes you in a warm hug, no matter if you’re reticent to accept it or not. So follow your bliss into the theater.
TROLLS opens on November 4.