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June 3, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Musical “Trolls World Tour” lacks compelling plot

Trolls World Tour

DreamWorks Animation

Sometimes movies that seem terrible at first glance are surprisingly well crafted. When DreamWorks Animation announced the 2016 animated musical comedy “Trolls,” it is safe to say not many people expected it to be as entertaining or polished as it was. But keeping the baffling success of “Trolls” in mind, it is unfortunate that the sequel, “Trolls World Tour,” couldn’t live up to its predecessor. 

“Trolls World Tour” features a simple storyline, one that could have been great if it had unfolded in a more organic and compelling way. The same main characters from the first film — Poppy (Anna Kendrick), queen of the Pop Trolls, and her best friend, Branch (Justin Timberlake) — discover there are other kinds of troll communities, all with different cultures based on a specific kind of music: pop, rock, country, classical, funk and everything in between. Each culture protects a single string from a magical harp that allows them to play their music. Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom), the leader of the Hard Rock Trolls, wants to take those strings for herself and turn all music into rock music.

On the surface, this seems to be a concept with heaps of potential. It has a message that most people have seen before: Individuality is good, and everyone should learn to embrace each others’ differences. But overall, the plot is reduced to painfully forced character dynamics and uncompelling conflicts. “Trolls World Tour” is primarily a children’s movie, so some of this simplicity can be forgiven, but children’s media shouldn’t be dumbed down to the verge of mind-numbing.

Although the film lacks structure and depth, “Trolls World Tour” broke records. The film was one of the handful of major movies to be released for digital streaming amid the coronavirus pandemic, and it became Universal Pictures’ most successful one-day rental option. Families sat down by the millions to watch a happy-go-lucky film with familiar, lovable characters, but they instead got something that was nothing more than lackluster and shallow.

It also doesn’t help that the main villain, Barb, is bland. She is a walking stereotype that rockers are angry and violent. But instead of being angry about actual issues, like real-life punk rockers, she operates with blind fury. For a split second, the film tries to make Barb sympathetic, painting her as a queen who is pressured by her subjects to behave like the hard, grisly, punk-rock chick she is. Instead of lingering on this moment of tenderness, the film barrels forward, erasing this tiny sliver of character work. Barb receives no redemption arc, which makes the movie’s resolution seem ungenuine and half-baked.

While there are many flaws with the movie, it would be a disservice to ignore all of the things that “Trolls World Tour” got right. The most noticeable elements of the film are the vibrancy of the color palette and the many kinds of animated textures that are scattered throughout the landscape. Entire communities that are influenced by one kind of music allow for an interesting exploration of the aesthetics of each style. For example, while the land of the Pop Trolls is characterized by soft, felt-like textures; sparkling tinsel; and loud, vibrant pink hues, the Rock Trolls’ world and clothes are denim and leather that are colored with dark, muted reds and grays. The diversity of colors, partnered with the smooth animation and delightfully detailed character designs, creates a visually pleasing treat and almost makes up for where the plot falls short.

Another notable strength is the film’s music. A decent soundtrack is guaranteed with the movie’s stacked cast, featuring huge names in music like Kendrick, Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige and Red Velvet, a well-known K-pop girl group. It’s delightful to hear favorites like “Crazy Train” and “Mi Gente” remixed and recovered by these amazing artists. 

“Trolls World Tour” succeeds in being entertaining. It’s a quick movie, clocking in at an hour and a half, and it has enough music and bright colors to keep anyone at least mildly engaged. But it is, quite honestly, mediocre. That would be all right for what it is, if not for its undeniable amount of potential to become a true animated classic.