DreamWork's Trolls toys with a brightly colored musical wonderland 

click to enlarge TRL_sq1975_s70_sq8011_s61_4K_RGB_FIN – From left: Poppy's best friends Fuzzbert, Guy Diamond (voiced by Kunal Nayyar), Smidge (voiced by Walt Dohrn), Mr. Dinkles, Biggie (voiced by James Corden), Cooper (voiced by Ron Funches), DJ Suki (voiced by Gwen Stefani) and The Fashion Twins, Satin & Chenille (voiced by Aino Jaiwo and Caroline Hjelt of Icona Pop) in DreamWorks Animation's TROLLS. Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation. - PHOTO CREDIT: DREAMWORKS ANIMATI
  • Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animati
  • TRL_sq1975_s70_sq8011_s61_4K_RGB_FIN – From left: Poppy's best friends Fuzzbert, Guy Diamond (voiced by Kunal Nayyar), Smidge (voiced by Walt Dohrn), Mr. Dinkles, Biggie (voiced by James Corden), Cooper (voiced by Ron Funches), DJ Suki (voiced by Gwen Stefani) and The Fashion Twins, Satin & Chenille (voiced by Aino Jaiwo and Caroline Hjelt of Icona Pop) in DreamWorks Animation's TROLLS. Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation.

Trolls, giving life to its odd, fluffy-haired Danish dolls, puts its subjects into the heart of a fairy tale somewhere between Shrek, The Witches and The Boxtrolls. Trolls are tiny bundles of irrepressible joy — so joyous that other species (including the more traditionally trollish Bergens) found that eating them transfers some of that happiness.

Though this weird equation of Trolls to happy pills is a bit unsettling — What is the chemical makeup of this happy community? Maybe it’s something in the water — the opening chase finds the community escaping from their Bergen captors and into a town of their own.

There, looking a bit like the New York City club scene with more glitter, they sing, dance and hug until someone remembers that films typically have plots.

The plot eventually arises because the trolls party a little too hard, altering their natural predators. Some are captured, and the heroine (and her reluctant friend) must venture after them to save the day. It’s not an unusual story device, but it’s an unusual story.

There’s an absurd Roald Dahl-like weirdness wandering through the writing along with the warped Disney-like ethic of a rave-based Three Little Pigs.

The songs, while they won’t dethrone any Disney classics, are enjoyable bubblegum pop, especially when the characters and voice actors break the fourth wall.

Anna Kendrick’s Princess Poppy has a delightful road song to start her adventure that’s made even more endearing by the musical toll the journey’s dangers wreak on her.

By the end of the tune, she’s huffing and puffing out verses while maintaining the effervescent positivity that bursts from most of the empowered ladies of animation.

Characterization is where Trolls faces most of its struggles, attempting the same blank excitement generated by The Lego Movie’s Emmet. What the Lego man had going for him, though, was a satirical everyman position. He was blank for a reason. DreamWorks Animation’s trolls, with their candy-vomit hair and bizarre designs, scream originality.

They look interesting and different, but their personalities are more cookie-cutter than those in a movie about factory-created blocks.

While the story meanders into a Bergen love story, a troll betrayal and one of the strangest backstories in a children’s movie I’ve ever seen — Justin Timberlake’s character, Branch, has what passes for a dark past in this rainbow and Top 40 world — it’s easy to forgive the familiar story structure when so much is idiosyncratic and new.

The animation style features the smooth, bulbous figures that DreamWorks adores, but with a felt-like fuzz over clothing and environment, delighting in the details.

The hair physics make up for the more hyperkinetic bits of zipping and hopping, and creatures that look like they leapt from a video game provide throwaway montages with plenty of visual interest.

On top of all this, a scrapbooking, faux two-dimensional aesthetic is applied whenever the trolls discuss a plan or hypothetical situation, which is as cute and refreshing as you’d imagine.

An anarchic scene in a dining hall dance sequence that feels part disco and part fantasy battle, the finale pushes a superficial moral of general happiness while slyly wagging its finger at those who would find it by taking it from others.

Roller-skating, bib shopping and bunker invading are a few of the other off-the-wall activities the film hosts, along with an easygoing anthropomorphic cloud that just wants a high five.

https://youtu.be/PXrm5eU6HtY

Print headline: Trolled, DreamWorks Animation’s latest project is a psychedelic trip through an anthropomorphic wonderland. 

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Jacob Oller

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