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“Trolls World Tour” is a sweet and airy confection

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Courtesy of Universal Pictures
3stars
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Ron Funches, Kelly Clarkson, Sam Rockwell, Mary J. Blige, George Clinton
Director: Walt Dohrn
Release Date: April 10, 2020

“Can’t stop the feeling,” Justin Timberlake sang in the original “Trolls,” and although the song is absent in the sequel “Trolls World Tour,” the sentiment still holds true.

But why would you want to stop the feeling when it’s used to such good effect in “World Tour?” Here is a kid’s film – one that has no right being anything more than a cynical cash-in- that actually manages to be about something.

That something – the need for harmony in our world- feels all the more relevant in a world where Americans are divided politically, racially and even on the question of whether they should comply with basic public health orders. And the film smartly reminds kids that true harmony can’t be found through silencing dissenting voices but through listening to and accepting them.

“A world where everyone looks the same and sounds the same, that’s not harmony,” we’re told. “Real harmony takes lots of voices. Different voices.”

That’s a great message as it goes, and it provides a film that would normally be a little too sweet, airy and insubstantial with a necessary amount of thematic heft.

But the truth is that I was more or less sold on “Trolls World Tour” even before it got to its heartfelt conclusion. Throw in some beautifully tactile animation, winning voice work and impressive world building and character design, and you have a family friendly winner.

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Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The titular world tour is undertaken by rock troll Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom of the exemplary “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) in an effort to conquer the various troll universes and find strings to a magic guitar that will be used to destroy all non-rock music.

This is, naturally, a major threat to the way of life of the pop trolls led by King Peppy (director Walt Dohrn replacing Jeffrey Tambor for obvious reasons).

“They can’t even begin to understand the essence of Hammer Time!”

The king’s daughter Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and her boyfriend Branch (Justin Timberlake) journey across the troll lands to track down Queen Barb and find a more peaceful resolution to their conflict.

This world-hopping is one of the real pleasures of “World Tour” as the audience visits troll lands inspired by techno, classical, country and funk music- each with a unique aesthetic. The techno trolls, for example, look a bit like day-glo sea monkeys. The country music trolls are basically just centaurs with cowboy hats. The classical music world is full of talking woodwind instruments and flying Cupid-esque trolls.

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Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Each one of these worlds is inviting, and made even more so by their uniquely tactile design. As in the first “Trolls” and “The Willoughbys,” all the environments seem to be made of products you could find at your local craft store. When Branch attempts a jailbreak midway through the picture, he shovels through a thin layer of felt to find loose cotton underneath.

At least as much fun as the environs are the characters, led by some typically spritely performances by Kendrick and Timberlake. But the supporting cast is deep and delightful with a large number of on-the-nose appearances by musicians – from Kelly Clarkson as the mayor of the country music world to Mary J. Blige and George Clinton as the king and queen of the funk trolls. And, yes, that is Ozzy Osbourne as the feeble king of the rock trolls.

“Rock on!”

The music is peppy and hummable, and there’s enough going on scriptwise that it took me a while to realize that there weren’t all that many jokes in “World Tour.” The jokes that are there generate mild chuckles rather than guffaws – light-hearted riffs on smooth jazz (“It’s enough to put you off jazz all together.”) and country music (“Don’t they know music is supposed to make you happy?”).

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Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Per the norm, supporting player James Corden can’t land a single joke. I couldn’t care about an underdeveloped supporting character enough to get into a subplot involving one troll’s quest to find others like him. Still, these are fairly minor quibbles in a generally solid kids pic.

There might not be enough substance in “Trolls: World Tour” (rated PG for some mild rude humor) to justify adult viewing outside of parenting/babysitting/movie reviewing responsibilities.  But the kids will love it, and the adults they drag along may find themselves smiling and humming along in spite of themselves.

“Trolls just want to have fun,” we’re told early in “World Tour.” Well, mission accomplished.

About the author

Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves.  He can be reached at staticandscreen@gmail.com.

 

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