'Trolls World Tour': Film Review

Familiar to a fault.

Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake reprise their roles in this sequel to Universal’s 2016 animated musical comedy, available on demand Friday.

More reassuring franchise-builder than innovative sequel, Trolls World Tour covers familiar ground, enhanced with some catchy musical and visual flourishes. The peace-loving forest denizens who love nothing more than celebrating music return again to defend their beloved traditions in another colorful adventure, but it feels too much like we’ve been here, done this already.

After acquiring rights to the diminutive dolls with the colorful, frizzy hair that were first popularized by Danish creator Thomas Dam in the 1960s, DreamWorks produced 2016’s Trolls with Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake in the lead roles, netting $347 million worldwide. It’s fair to say that the sequel won’t have the opportunity to remotely overtake that figure after Universal made the unprecedented decision to break the theatrical window, forgoing premium 3D screenings and shifting the movie’s release to pay-per-view, timed to the original premiere date at a $19.99 rental price in the U.S.

Fresh from saving her friends and family from the evil Bergens who attempted to devour them in Trolls, young Queen Poppy (Kendrick) is settling into ruling her Troll village with the support of her best friends Branch (Timberlake) and Biggie (James Corden). Now that peace is restored, the Trolls are free to indulge their favorite pastimes of singing, dancing and hugging (on the hour, without fail), establishing an auspicious reign for Poppy, who has assumed the throne from her father King Peppy (director Walt Dohrn).

She doesn’t know, however, that Peppy has been hiding a dark secret that’s finally revealed when Poppy receives an invitation from a certain Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) to join her “One Nation Under Rock” world concert tour. The King reluctantly explains that their Troll tribe, representing pop music, is only one of six major groups, all following different musical traditions and that Barb has a nefarious plan to force all Trolls to accept hard rock as the only legitimate genre. Although Poppy doesn’t want to believe that any Troll could be so cruel, she sets sail in a colorful balloon with loyal pals Branch and Biggie to visit some of the other Troll villages representing classical, funk, techno and country music to assess the threat that Queen Barb poses to them all.

Naturally for a Troll movie, their journey is punctuated with numerous song-and-dance numbers that cue up the various musical genres, and while these interludes may be catchy and colorful, they serve more to embellish than to advance the story. In the original film, the Trolls faced existential peril as the Bergens threatened to consume them all, but in the sequel the stakes are reduced to feuding over different musical traditions.

Returning screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger lend some necessary continuity to the franchise, but together with co-writers Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky and Elizabeth Tippet, they seem more intent on setting a breathless pace and overstuffing the movie with variations on similar incidents that repeat from one Troll tribe to another. At least these scenes are populated with some delightfully unique characters, including country music star Delta Dawn (Kelly Clarkson) and King Thrash (Ozzy Osbourne), along with funk royalty King Quincy (George Clinton) and Queen Essence (Mary J. Blige).

Returning to the franchise after co-directing Trolls, Dohrn impressively guides this surfeit of talent through some psychedelically inspired landscapes and numerous complex musical performances, even if the shifting kaleidoscope of neon-bright colors and imaginatively rendered characters seems more inventively episodic than narratively organic.

The helpful life lessons about diversity, tolerance and kindness that are delivered along the way are certainly worth repeating, but maybe not as incessantly as the filmmakers seem to believe. If the Trolls ever return in a future feature, hopefully they’re a bit more mischievous and a little less self-righteous.

Production company: DreamWorks Animation
Distributor: Universal (available on demand Friday)
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Kelly Clarkson, Ozzy Osbourne, Jamie Dornan, Sam Rockwell, Gustavo Dudamel, Anderson .Paak, Anthony Ramos, J Balvin, Charlyne Yi, Flula Borg, Ron Funches, Caroline Hjelt, Aino Jawo, Kunal Nayyar, George Clinton, Mary J. Blige, Ester Dean, Betsy Sodaro, Karan Soni, Kenan Thompson
Director: Walt Dohrn
Co-director: David P. Smith
Screenwriters: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Elizabeth Tippet
Producer: Gina Shay
Executive producer: Dannie Festa
Production designer: Kendal Cronkhite Shaindlin
Editor: Nick Fletcher
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Casting director: Christi Soper

Rated PG, 90 minutes