If “The LEGO Movie” taught us nothing else, we at least all walked away from that film knowing that there is a way to make a movie based upon a toy that doesn’t feel as though the film is merely shilling for its namesake. I would argue that, perhaps, we learned a lot more from the movie (e.g., everything is awesome), but that particular discussion takes us a little far afield.
The point is this – despite its great cast and some catchy tunes, “Trolls” feels like little more than a cynical attempt to sell Troll dolls. Every time some different type of Troll appears on screen (regular, sparkly, animal-based, larger than average, two with their hair stuck together, etc.), the viewer is absolutely certain that this iteration is/has been available for purchase somewhere and that some nostalgic adult who doesn’t realize they shouldn’t talk during a movie will call out, “Oh my god, I had that one!”
As for the story the film tells, well, there are the Bergens who are sad people whose only source of happiness happens to be eating Trolls, Trolls being peppy and delightful. Not wanting to be eaten, the Trolls run away from the Bergens and one Bergen, the royal chef (Christine Baranski), spends years looking for them. After a successful—if long—hunt, she returns to the castle to make the young Bergen king (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) happy via a nosh of Troll so she can become the power behind the throne. The Troll Princess, Poppy (Anna Kendrick), goes to save her buds with the only sad Troll around, Branch (Justin Timberlake).
The film’s plot holes are more than abundant. They invade every aspect of the film, it is as though the filmmakers (Mike Mitchell directs a script from Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger, with Walt Dohrn as co-director) decided that because the plot was so old, and all but the youngest members of the audience will have seen it before, that they only had to stitch together its barest outlines for everyone to accept it. This is a mistake and the result is that there are a whole lot of “wait, but why…” moments.
Kendrick, however, puts on her game voice, oozing saccharine happiness and verve with every line. Perhaps occasionally overly perky—one can understand where Branch is coming from when he, more than once, tries to get all the Trolls to stop singing and hugging—Kendrick still almost carries it off. Her enthusiasm as Poppy is infectious. If “Trolls” didn’t keep stopping so that it could inject things like a Cinderella-esque love story between the scullery maid (Zooey Deschanel) and the Bergen boy-king in order to pad the runtime, by sheer force of will Kendrick might have made the whole thing successful.
But, the movie does keep stopping, the plot is both ancient and full of holes, and the entire affair does feel like it’s been designed to sell Troll dolls. Sure, I might now want a Troll doll that fires sparkles out of its backside, but I certainly have no desire to see “Trolls” again.
With the voice talent involved, the great songs (both new and old), and some truly impressive animation, I just shouldn’t feel that way walking away from the movie. But, like a Troll’s need to hug at hug time, I’m powerless to change the way I feel.
photo credit: 20th Century Fox/DreamWorks Animation