Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 92 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 8+. This movie, inspired by the once-popular Trolls dolls, follows the longtime war between the cute, colorful Trolls and the monstrous, evil Bergens, who eat the former. A few different scary scenes, like the Trolls running away from the Bergens, the Bergens trying to eat the trolls, and various character deaths; some nudity in the form of characters’ butts; some romantic tension between a couple of Trolls and a couple of Bergens, declarations of love, and hugs; and some rude jokes and bathroom humor.
‘Trolls’ is aggressively cute, an amalgamation of adorable characters and colorful locations that moves at a frantic pace. It will amuse, but its reliance on romantic love as the solution to every problem is frustratingly basic.
By Roxana Hadadi
“Trolls” feels less like a movie and more like an opportunity to sell branded merchandise before the holiday season begins. Perhaps that’s because the movie is “inspired” by the once-popular toys, or because the song that plays a pivotal role in the film—Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”—has been in heavy rotation on the radio for nearly six months. “Trolls” isn’t really a narrative; it’s a summation of aggressively cute parts.
The film focuses on a longtime war between the Trolls—brightly haired and bodied little creatures that are always happy, always singing, and always positive—and the Bergens, monstrous beings who dwarf the Trolls in size and can only achieve happiness by eating the Trolls. Or at least, that’s what the Bergens believe because that’s what they have been told by the Chef (voiced by Christine Baranski, of “Into the Woods”), who prepares a feast each year for the Bergens and enjoys an exalted role because of her claims.
That changes, though, when the Trolls engineer an escape, leaving the town behind and resettling elsewhere, building a joyful and bright society that prioritizes hugs, music, and choreographed dancing above all else. Twenty years pass, and Princess Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick, of “Pitch Perfect 2”), beloved by the Trolls, plans a massive party to celebrate their years of freedom.
Only one Troll refuses to attend the party: the reclusive Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake, of “Runner Runner”), a sort of doomsday preparer who is convinced that the Bergens will find them again and who thinks the Trolls have lulled themselves into false security and weakness. The world is “not all cupcakes and rainbows,” he insists, and he’s proven right when the Chef, thrown out of Bergen society after the Trolls escaped, finds them again and kidnaps a number of Poppy’s friends as a way to regain her former status.
The princess is convinced to get them back, but the only person who is ready to fight the Bergens is Branch—and he refuses to help. But the reality is they need each other, and to defeat the Bergens once and for all, Poppy and Branch need to combine her enthusiasm and tenacity with his skills and resourcefulness. Cooperation is the only way.
What is so irritating about “Trolls,” though, is that the film mostly shoves aside its teamwork message for one that prioritizes romantic love about all else; there is the tension between Poppy and Branch, but also a subplot involving a romance between the Bergen Prince, Gristle (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, of “How to Train Your Dragon 2”), and the scullery maid who loves him, Bridget (voiced by Zooey Deschanel, of “Your Highness”).
The film is working toward a conclusion that tries to teach viewers about how “happiness is inside of all of us,” but then it pivots by having characters pair off at the end. For a children’s movie that skews so young in its audience, it feels irresponsible to present romantic affection as the only thing driving its characters—especially love that materializes over the course of a few days and begins with distrust and resentment. It’s a lazy move for “Trolls,” and it’s a shortcut that is almost as egregious as the fact that the design of the Bergens is almost totally copied from that of “The Boxtrolls,” the superior stop-motion film from a few years ago.
Those derivative elements of “Trolls” stick out, especially because the rest of the film is so engineered to be adorable. Trolls that fart out glitter will make you laugh every time. A scrapbooking-inspired sequence during which Poppy walks through a forest where animals and plants come to life and try to eat her is beautiful and bizarre. The soundtrack choices, from classics by Simon and Garfunkel to alternative rock by Gorillaz, are inspired. “Trolls” dutifully works its way through the checklist for children’s films, but all that good stuff feels like icing on a cake that is, underneath it all, noticeably underbaked.
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