Dir: Walt Dohrn, David P Smith. Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, James Corden, Kunal Nayyar, Ozzy Osbourne, Rachel Bloom. U cert, 91 mins.
There will be many a breathless declaration that Trolls World Tour marks the death of cinema as we know it. Not because it’s yet another sugar-saturated, brightly hued sequel to a film based on a children’s toy, but because – due to the Covid-19 pandemic – Universal chose to bypass its theatrical release entirely. The film can instead be rented at home for £16 ($20). But it’s hardly time to kiss goodbye to the sticky floors of our local cinemas. Under normal circumstances, would anyone really fork out that much money for the privilege of sitting on their own couches? This is a radical measure to combat a near-impossible situation, with the entire film industry now left in suspended animation. You can’t blame Universal for trying to make the best of the situation.
And Trolls World Tour is an ideal test subject. It’s mainstream, but unassuming enough. If it flops, the world will quickly forget and move on. Parents will also welcome the distraction. Like its predecessor, it’s a cavalcade of colour, glitter and blind optimism – a combination that could only have been cooked up in the minds of Katy Perry, Lisa Frank, or the creatives at DreamWorks.
The film follows on from 2016’s Trolls, which brought to screen the tiny, shock-haired plastic dolls that were such a fixture of Sixties childhoods, before popping up again the Nineties. The sequel’s story takes the easy route: why go deeper into the world you’ve created, when you can just expand its boundaries? And so Poppy (Anna Kendrick), the queen of the Trolls, discovers that she has dominion over only one of six different tribes. Each is defined by their taste in music.
Poppy, as the name suggests, belongs to the “pop” Trolls. There are the country Trolls, the classical Trolls, the funk Trolls, and the techno Trolls. And then there are the hark rock Trolls, ruled over by Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) – a red-mohawked, spider-eyelashed musical purist who thinks all other genres are either boring or beneath her. With her leather-clad army, who’d all comfortably fit in a Mad Max-themed edition of Guitar Hero, she intends to destroy every other genre and submit all to the rule of a rad guitar riff.
It’s a little disappointing that the film’s five screenwriters couldn’t come up with a better resolution than sending its character, Poppy and her longtime crush Branch (Justin Timberlake), on a multi-stop road trip to save the day. Neither do they find any new ground to cover when it comes to the pair’s relationship. But it’s hard to focus on a grudge in the face of such hyperactive visual stimulation, as directors Walt Dohrn and David P Smith pump in the sugary stuff like it’s a bloated éclair. It’s delirious, but often in ways that are disarmingly weird and imaginative. The shimmery, silver, butt-naked Guy Diamond (Kunal Nayyar) births a child straight out of his mountainous hair. Said child is wearing Seventies sunglasses, has the voice of Kenan Thompson, and makes demands like “Hold me, daddy”. Jamie Dornan also features as a “smooth jazz Troll”, whose music can whisk people away to a hazy, neon dream of island sunsets, white tigers, and all-you-can-eat sushi.
The film does go heavy on the cameos – expect Kelly Clarkson, Ozzy Osbourne, Anderson .Paak, Icona Pop, George Clinton, Mary J Blige, Anthony Ramos, and K-Pop group Red Velvet. All of them are here to belt cutsiefied versions of karaoke classics, from Heart’s “Barracuda” to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (although the “Girls” are now “Trolls”, of course). But somewhere beneath all the furious toe-tapping, the film does find room for a brief – and subversive – lesson on musical history. Namely, it’s a reminder that pop’s domination is built off the back of the genres and cultures it’s appropriated and homogenised over the years. “Denying our differences,” the film warns us, “is denying the truth of who we are”. Trolls World Tour is clear on one thing: never should glitter and rainbows be automatically equated with brainlessness.
Trolls World Tour is available to rent online