By Lynn Venhaus
A jolt of joy, this sparkly rainbow-colored jukebox musical is as sweet as an Easter candy basket and as technically polished as a TED talk in its message of diversity.
The “Trolls World Tour” young audience can delight in the razzle-dazzle while the adults can appreciate the good beat and its “We Are the World” vibe. The merry Pop trolls are as relentlessly upbeat as they were in their debut film, and face another grave threat – but really, demonizing rock music? Hmmm…it’s not exactly being eaten by the Bergens.
This all-star sequel to DreamWorks Animation’s 2016 musical hit takes Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake) on an adventure. They discover their Pop universe is only one of six different Trolls tribes scattered over six different lands and devoted to six different kinds of music: funk, country, techno, classical, pop and rock.
A member of hard-rock royalty, Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom), aided by her father King Thrash (Ozzy Osbourne), wants to destroy all other kinds of music to let rock reign supreme. She sets out on her evil Trolls World Tour but Poppy thinks she wants to unite them. Will Barb be able to strike the biggest power chord or can Poppy bring everyone together in perfect harmony?
I wish Queen Barb, the Joan Jett clone, would not have been the villain, and her metal-head minions hell-bent on erasing funk, country, techno, classical and pop and such sub-genres as reggaeton, hip-hop and K-pop. Because kids need to feel free to have a good head-banging time too. Well, if the worst thing is to turn into a rock zombie, we can work around it, I suppose. And Rachel Bloom is properly fiery and funny as the riot grrrl.
And wow, what an introduction to the panoply of music out there – and you certainly can dance to it all. It has some sly humor too — the smooth jazz jabs are funny (Jamie Dornan is devious Chaz!).
Illustrating how music is a universal language that binds us all, especially if we appreciate the different flavors that give life its harmony, this slickly produced fast-paced film bursts with such a vast array of sounds that it’s the jam of all jams. The musical talent gathered for an animated film is impressive – 40 songs are woven in the soundtrack.
Besides the returning cast, who has oodles of charm, we have Mary J. Blige, George Clinton and Anderson .Paak for funk, Kelly Clarkson is big-haired country queen Delta Dawn, J Balvin represents reggaeton, Anthony Ramos is the techno beat, girl band Red Velvet is K-Pop and world-renowned violinist and conductor is Trollzart. If that doesn’t sell the movie’s point about we all shouldn’t sound the same!
Newcomers include Kenan Thompson as a very cool Tiny Diamond and Sam Rockwell as the wise sage Hickory – and they are fun to watch and to listen to as such distinctive characters. Musicians Flula Borg, Ester Dean and Charlyne Yi are also featured in the tribe.
Huge credit must go to executive music producers Ludwig Goransson (Oscar for “Black Panther”) and Timberlake. The music makes the film pop with positivity. “Just Sing” and “The Other Side” will be heavy in rotation. And people will know P-Funk’s “Atomic Dog”!
As for the key players, Anna Kendrick is well-suited as the perennially peppy Poppy, with her musical theater and “Pitch Perfect” credentials, and Justin Timberlake is there for the music as pragmatic Branch. James Corden is a bright spot as Biggie and Ron Funches is funny as the giraffe-like troll.
The whimsy is a given and so is the swirling kaleidoscope of color, like a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper exploded on screen. But what is so fun to watch are all the happy dancing feet – just the coordination of the choreography is akin to a major Broadway musical. And the rich details in the personal looks – those felt appliques and tiny details.
Of course, the movie is a slick merchandise marketing machine, for it was created out of Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam’s sensational toy dolls, it’s what we expect. We called them Wishniks in the 1960s, and the good luck Trolls have gone on to be a hit in many decades. The way the animators play with the hair is genius too.
Just as the jolly Trolls expand their universe, the movie audience gets a tutorial in the various sonic landscapes music can summon.
And if ever we needed some warm and fuzzies, it’s certainly now. A bright spot in a dark world right now, “Trolls World Tour” delivers a splendid promise. Rock on!
Note: Released April 10 on Video on Demand and streaming services. “Trolls World Tour” is rated PG for mild rude humor. The animated musical feature’s run-time is 1 hr. 30 min. Lynn’s Grade: B+
A version of this review appeared in the Webster-Kirkwood Times.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.