'Trolls': Film Review

We've seen it all before.
11/4/2016

Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake lend their voices to this animated musical comedy from DreamWorks.

If you could take the ShrekHappy Feet and Smurfs movies, toss them in a blender and hit the pulse button a few times, the result would be a pretty reasonable approximation of Trolls, an admittedly vibrant-looking but awfully recognizable animated musical comedy concoction (premiering at the London Film Festival this weekend ahead of its Nov. 4 domestic opening).

Taking its bouncy cue from Justin Timberlake’s shamelessly catchy hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling!,” released in early May, the DreamWorks Animation production works overtime trying to be cute and irrepressible without bothering to create characters and plotlines that are as engagingly dimensional as the textured, Day-Glo visuals.

With their candy-hued Don King hairdos, those singing-and-dancing trolls will likely appeal mainly to younger viewers. Older moviegoers might experience a cloyingly sticky sensation that isn’t caused by the soda-splattered floor beneath their feet.

Taking its cue from Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam’s Good Luck Troll dolls, which first came to pop-culture prominence during the mid-1960s, the film begins with the discovery that all is not rainbows and cupcakes for the joyous creatures, who've become mood-altering nourishment for the grumpy, ogre-like Bergens and their ruler, King Gristle (John Cleese).

Fleeing Bergen Town, the Trolls, spurred on by peppy Poppy (Anna Kendrick), relocate to the forest, where they continue their celebratory ways and hourly group hugs, much to the concern of the uber-cautious Branch (Timberlake), who worries that all that revelry will give away their hiding place.

Sure enough, the Trolls are discovered by the scheming Chef (Christine Baranski), a disgraced Bergen who absconds with a bunch of Poppy’s friends in a bid to get back in the good graces of the King’s unhappy son (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).

It’s Poppy and Branch to the rescue, with constant musical assists from covers (a la Happy Feet) of vintage Top 10 tunes like Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”

The numbers, while choreographed with Pop-art-infused, hippie-dippy pizzazz by co-directors Mike Mitchell (Shrek Forever After) and Walt Dohrn, serve, for the most part, as cutesy interludes rather than really advancing the plot in any unique or meaningful way.

Having collaborated on DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda movies, among others, writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger demonstrate a seasoned, assured shorthand when it comes to snappy banter and bits of wacky irreverence. But they prove less adept at developing relatable characters and involving, inventively staged situations.

That deficit leaves Kendrick and Timberlake, two actors with the sort of youthful voices that lend themselves nicely to animation, with limited places to take their alter-egos.

The talents of the supporting players — including the always reliable Zooey Deschanel as a love-struck Cinderella of a Bergen scullery maid, Jeffrey Tambor as a Papa Smurf type and Gwen Stefani as Troll Village’s resident DJ — are similarly under-challenged.

While the production breaks some intriguing visual ground with its addition of felt textures and sprays of glitter to the CG toolbox, not to mention all that undulating troll hair, most of the original songs are largely forgettable.

Echoing those tunes, Trolls is content to play out an all-too-familiar refrain.

Distributor: Fox
Production company: DreamWorks Animation
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, John Cleese, James Corden, Jeffrey Tambor
Directors: Mike Mitchell, Walt Dohrn
Screenwriters: Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger
Producer: Gina Shay
Executive producer: Dannie Festa
Production designer: Kendal Cronkhite-Shaindlin
Editor: Nick Fletcher
Composer: Christophe Beck
Casting directors: Leslee Feldman, Christi Soper Hilt

Rated PG, 93 minutes

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