Genre: CG Animation
Director: Mike Mitchell
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Russell Brand, Zooey Deschanel, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, James Corden, Kunal Nayyar, Ron Funches, Icona Pop, Quvenzhané Wallis, John Cleese, Gwen Stefani
Runtime: 1 hr 33 mins
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Opening Day: 3 November 2016
Synopsis: From the creators of Shrek comes the most smart, funny, irreverent animated comedy of the year, DreamWorks’ Trolls. This holiday season, enter a colorful, wondrous world populated by hilariously unforgettable characters and discover the story of the overly optimistic Trolls, with a constant song on their lips, and the comically pessimistic Bergens, who are only happy when they have trolls in their stomach.
No, this isn’t the pint-sized, plume-haired dolls you may remember from the early 60s; instead, as imagined by Dreamworks Animation, the titular Trolls are Day-Glo coloured folks whose existence revolves around singing, dancing and hugging on a regular schedule of joyousness. Not that life was always so upbeat for them; the Trolls used to live in constant fear of their sworn enemy – the giant, ghoulish, ogre-like Bergens. Unlike the Trolls, the Bergens have only known misery, believing that their only path to happiness is to eat the Trolls on an annual feast dubbed “Trollstice”. But with that threat seemingly a footnote in their history, the Trolls – led by the pink-haired irrepressibly happy Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and her dad King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor) have grown complacent, so much so that all they care about on the twentieth anniversary of their flight from terror is to hold the biggest, loudest and most happening rave party ever.
As you can imagine, that turns out to be the very fateful day the Bergens – or to be precise, one of their ostracised kind – comes a-knocking. That Bergen used to be their chef, but since botching the annual Troll feast two decades ago, Chef (voiced by Christine Baranski) has been roaming the woods outside Bergen Town all by herself, hoping to discover the Trolls’ hiding spot. No thanks to Poppy’s extravagant fireworks show, Chef ends up nabbing a bunch of them to reinstate “Trollstice” and get back into the good books of the young prince Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the latter of whom has yet to taste his first Troll but is convinced of its ability to help him experience happiness. And so ensues a boilerplate narrative that sees Poppy embark on a mission to rescue her friends with the one outcast of the flock, a dour, sarcastic and worrisome Troll named Branch (Justin Timberlake) who shares neither the rainbow hue nor the sunshine disposition of his fellow kind.
Yet though the journey may be somewhat predictable, screenwriters Johnathan Aibel and Glenn Berger make sure that each step of the way is as fun and infectious as it gets. Along the way, the opposites-attract duo of Branch and Poppy will engage in some hilarious repartee – with each other (in the form of a wonderfully zany musical interlude set to Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’) and with the appealingly wacky Cloud Guy (whose riff on the simple ask for a high five will leave you in stitches). And when they reach Bergen territory, Branch and Poppy will find themselves in a Cinderella-like subplot involving the prince’s scullery maid Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) and the prince himself. To express her ogre-sized crush on Gristle, Bridget will break into Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Hello’, and in gratitude for helping her realise her dream date – complete with a dance that ends up substituting the symbolic glass slipper with a disco skate – Bridget will prove an unexpected but crucial ally in their rescue mission.
If it isn’t apparent yet, co-directors Mike Mitchell and Walt Dorn populate their film with plenty of song-and-dance and musical numbers, their eclectic selection running the gamut from Earth, Wind and Fire’s ‘September’, to Diana Ross’ ‘I’m Coming Out’ and even to Gorillaz’s ‘Clint Eastwood’ – among these, the showstoppers are Branch and Poppy’s beautiful duet of Phil Collins’ ‘True Colours’ and the all-star rendition of Timberlake’s dance anthem ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’. There’s no denying that they do give the film a good beat, if not an almost relentless kinetic energy, but each one in fact conveys a very specific emotion of one or more of the characters at that point in the movie, be it excitement or joy or longing or loneliness. Timberlake is credited as the executive music producer here, and besides making sure that you’ll leave the cinema with his earwormy ubiquitous single, the actor cum singer also deserves credit for the catchy and clever musical backdrop.
The achievements here aren’t just aural; indeed, ‘Trolls’ is always captivating to watch also in part due to its scrapbook-inspired visuals which employ not just pastel colours but contrasts to rich effect. Comparisons will no doubt be made to ‘Inside Out’ in how the interplay between dull and bright colours are used to illustrate the characters’ emotions, and while it doesn’t match Pixar’s ingenuity, the similar technique is just as, if not, even more evocative here especially in a touching scene where Branch and Poppy help each other to find happiness when all hope seems lost. The choice to animate the characters in cloth-puppet tactile is also surprisingly inspired, not only in complementing the expressiveness of the characters but also in reinforcing their innate appeal. In an era where computer-generated images has pretty much made most such features look more or less the same, the artistry in the animation here is indeed laudable.
As much as it is good, escapist fun, ‘Trolls’ packs a simple but meaningful message about happiness – that is, true joy cannot be found in the things around us but within us, and it sometimes takes someone for us to realise it. Especially in the pleasure-seeking hedonistic times we live in, that message rings even more true, whether you are ten or forty years ago. Kids will laugh at how the trolls fart glitter and defecate cupcakes, but adults will get the vintage disco hits and the fairy-tale spoof. Even if you’re a cynic by nature, you’ll find it hard-pressed to resist the energetic, vibrant, and utterly effervescent candy-coloured confetti explosion of a movie in ‘Trolls’, buoyed in no small measure by the uniformly excellent voice cast. It is infectious all right, and like that Timberlake ditty, you won’t be able to stop that feeling.
(The most exuberant animation of the year, ‘Trolls’ is overflowing with witty humour, heartwarming sentiment and pure unbridled happiness)
Review by Gabriel Chong