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Barb (Rachel Bloom) rocks out in Trolls World Tour
Mad Max, but make it Trolls.
Image: Universal Pictures

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Trolls World Tour takes movie morals a step in the right direction

The sequel features even more creative visuals and pop songs

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2014’s The Lego Movie seemed to be pulling off a magic trick that was impossible to replicate. It was a movie based on a popular toy that seemed to have no real reason to exist, besides as a cash grab. But directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller conjured up a movie that’s both incredibly visually inventive and sharply written, rebuking the Chosen One trope.

Two years later, Trolls accomplished a similar feat. The film took the plasticky Troll dolls, familiar to audiences since the 1960s, turned them into invitingly soft creatures, and built a world around them out of scrapbook-like materials. Its ultimate message about finding happiness within oneself is facile, but directors Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn tell their story with such verve and weird humor that the corny moral doesn’t much matter. Its sequel, Trolls World Tour, has a slightly deeper message. It also ups the sheer amount of stuff happening on screen at any given time, aiming to pull off a similar trick, even though the story it’s dealing with is more complex.

Branch (Justin Timberlake) and Poppy (Anna Kendrick) with glasses in Trolls World Tour
You can’t stop the feeling!
Image: Universal Pictures

Since being crowned queen of her pop-music-loving Troll tribe, Poppy (Anna Kendrick) has been struggling with the weight of her new role, to the point where she’s been ignoring her friends’ advice. Former grouchy survivalist Troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) takes Poppy’s preoccupation particularly hard, especially as he tries to muster up the courage to tell her that he’s in love with her. To make matters more complicated, Barb (Rachel Bloom), queen of the hard-rock Troll tribe, has taken it upon herself to seize the musical “string” that powers each kingdom of Trolls (the funk Trolls, the classical Trolls, etc.). Once she has all six strings, she’ll be able to play a chord so powerful that rock will become the only type of music that exists anymore.

Fantasy stories regularly use different species or races to stand in for different human ethnicities (see, for instance, Netflix’s Bright, or Zootopia). In Trolls World Tour, co-directors Walt Dohrn and David P. Smith do something similar, using the different Troll kingdoms and their eventual realization that they can all co-exist as a broad way of saying the same thing about coexistence among humans. Where Trolls World Tour succeeds, however, is in taking that message of peace a little further. It’s not saying that all Trolls (or humans) are the same, nor that they should be. One Troll even explains that denying the differences between them is denying their identities, and the way they stem from varying histories.

But that’s the limit to how far Trolls World Tour is willing to interrogate its own message, as oodles of confetti and popular earworms like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Who Let The Dogs Out” take precedence. The musical kingdoms are filled with clichés — the classical Trolls are all styled like cherubs in a Renaissance painting, the country Trolls have Dolly Parton-esque huge hair, the rock Trolls all take after the Osbourne family (Ozzy even voices Barb’s father) — and for some reason, the smooth-jazz Troll is derided all the way through the movie, in spite of the preaching about acceptances and differences.

A troll plays the saxophone.
What’s so wrong with smooth jazz?
Photo: Universal Pictures

The confetti and earworms, however, do a lot of work in keeping the audience too occupied to notice any problem. Trolls World Tour retains its predecessor’s scrapbook feel, with waterfalls made of strips of shining plastic, book covers made of denim, and trees made of chenille stems. The throwaway jokes come a million a minute, from a rooster who begins crowing and then gives up halfway through, muttering, “Oh, who cares,” to a teardrop so overwhelmed that it sprouts its own teardrop.

The textures and sounds littered throughout the film plug up the plot holes effectively enough to keep the film sailing for its 91-minute duration, but there’s no glue keeping that confetti in place, and those flaws open up again as soon as there’s enough breathing room to look at them properly. There’s not much of a story here, and, comparative to the first Trolls movie, not much thought put into it. (Why do the pop Trolls claim Psy’s “Gangnam Style” as “one of their most important songs,” but consider the K-pop Trolls, voiced by actual K-pop group Red Velvet, to be separate from them?) There’s no equivalent to “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” either, the supremely catchy Timberlake bop that broke out of the first Trolls-verse and made it onto the pop charts. But then again, lightning can only be caught in a bottle so many times.

Trolls World Tour is now available via home rental and On Demand platforms.

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