Premise: Poppy and Branch discover that they are but one of six different Troll tribes scattered over six different lands devoted to six different kinds of music: Funk, Country, Techno, Classical, Pop and Rock. Their world is about to get a lot bigger and a whole lot louder.
Dreamworks Animation made history by adapting to the rapidly changing circumstances of the novel coronavirus and, instead of postponing its release of Trolls World Tour, the studio gambled by making the film the first to forego any kind of theatrical release by dropping it for home viewing on the same day it was scheduled to hit the cinemas. The strategy honestly makes perfect sense for a family-friendly film like this: rather than wrangling the kids, finding a babysitter for the siblings that are too young, shelling out major dollars for marked-up snacks, and all the other hassles associated with taking kids to a movie, families can sit down and watch the film at their own leisure, even having the luxury of pausing for a bathroom break. Just make sure your home internet connection isn’t more reliable than that of yours truly.
As with most animated franchises aimed at a younger audience, the sequel is generally used as an opportunity for world building, and director Walt Dohrn literally makes it his primary objective from the opening minutes. Throughout the film, we’ll meet all manner of trolls, every size, shape, and color of the rainbow (including their signature hair). All trolls are united by their love of music, but separated by their respective genre tastes. The original cast has thankfully all returned here: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, James Corden, and Ron Funches (Dohrn actually steps in and replaces Jeffrey Tambor as the voice of King Peppy, and bring some unexpected energy to his performance). Rachel Bloom makes a meal out of her character, the queen of the rock-n-roll trolls, whose mission is to eliminate all other forms of music and turn every other troll into guitar-shredding, leather-clad rock zombies.
Yes, the theme of Trolls World Tour becomes fairly evident early on, preaching the virtues of individuality and diversity over the drabness of hegemony. I think there was an episode of Doug that had the same message when it was on Nickelodeon. Easily the weakest aspect of this Trolls entry is its script, which takes the path of least resistance at nearly every turn. For instance, you have Timberlake’s Branch, whose character arc here is essentially the same as Poe from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (only here, the director at least remembers his character exists by the end of the film). The climax is literally recycled, beat for beat, from the first film when all color goes out and all hope is lost until the heroes discover the music within.
Dohrn at least deserves some credit, though, for wisely expanding the role of Ron Funches’ Cooper – the only troll that looks less like a person and more like a giraffe. Once his eyes are opened to the wider troll world, he sets out to find out if there are more out there like him. His arc has the most personal stakes, despite the character being a little thinly sketched, though it unfortunately gets cut short to make more room for the main plot.
It may be tired by now to praise a children’s movie as “fun for kids AND adults”, but such a feat is harder to pull of than just throwing in a few jokes – and maybe a visual Mad Max Fury Road reference – specifically targeted at the grown-ups and calling it a day. But with World Tour, you’ll probably find yourself digging a little deeper to find something to hold onto. The original film sneakily turned itself into a fun jukebox musical, mashing together hits both old and new. Here, the musical numbers are so overwhelming, you begin to wonder if more were added to pad out the already thin plot. Yes, the sequences are all animated spectacularly, and the singing is all top-notch, but how many of us were really itching for another cover of “Barracuda”?
It should be mentioned that all of World Tour looks great. The gloomy world of the Bergen’s from the first film is replaced with even more Technicolor vibrancy, as each troll world is given its own distinctive style. Not to mention the character designs of each musical region: the country trolls have gaudy, bouffant-style hair, while the techno trolls are glow-in-the-dark neon. The hilarious “Smooth Jazz Troll” sequence in particular is a visual highlight, bringing to mind a drug trip in a Lisa Frank factory.
Nobody at Dreamworks could have predicted the circumstances surrounding the release of Trolls World Tour. Who knows – maybe a year from now, we’ll hail them as pioneering geniuses. The quarantine has undoubtedly made me hungry for new content aside from the doldrums of Netflix’s typical winter and spring releases. 2016’s Trolls mostly worked because it wasn’t beholden to any particular mythology. With World Tour, it’s fun to explore the wider world, but it needs a better story to justify its existence.
FINAL TAKE: The cast list here is truly insane, but Ozzy Osbourne’s cameo was a personal favorite. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that he was definitely not cast against type.
About the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography (bensearsphotography.com) and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.