(G) 3.5 out of 5
Director: Mike Mitchell & Walt Dohrn.
Cast: (voices of) Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, James Corden, Jeffrey Tambor.
The current plan at the big studios is to pick cultural touchstones from the '80s and '90s and repackage them as movies for a new generation.
It's an ingenious plan – you lure in the parents who grew up with these things and they bring their kids. Everyone wins and the studios make all the money.
This explains why we’ve had new Ghostbusters, Smurfs and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, and goes someway towards explaining the abomination that was Pixels (but not fully – nothing will ever fully explain that piece of crap).
It also partly explains the success of the new Star Wars movie and the Lego movie - there are three generations with built-in brand recognition there (although they were also genuinely good movies, which helps).
This all brings us to Trolls, which is based on the odd cultural phenomenon that was the colourfully hirsute little toy known as a troll doll. They were big in the ‘80s and ‘90s. No one is sure why exactly, but they were definitely a thing.
There was no story around the troll dolls – they were just toys. Several computer games and TV shows have been made in an attempt to create a backstory and a world for them to exist in, but each disappeared as quickly as it appeared.
In this version, put out by Dreamworks Animation (Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon), the Trolls are an all-singing, all-dancing and all-hugging race of Smurf-ish beings led by King Peppy (Tambor) and his daughter Princess Poppy (Kendrick).
When we are first introduced to them, they are the farmed food of the hideous Bergens, but a daring escape led by King Peppy ushers them to freedom. Fast forward 20 years, and Poppy is throwing a big party celebrating the anniversary of their exodus but resident grouchy troll Branch (Timberlake) thinks such a spectacle will attract the unwanted attention of the Bergens – and he’s right.
It all sounds so kidsy (it’s rated G) but the good news is that Trolls is surprisingly hilarious and does a reasonable job of appealing to all ages. The plot and its theme about how everyone has happiness inside them are definitely aimed young, plus you just know that singing and dancing is going to win the day, but you’d have to be a real Bergen to hate it.
Part of the all-ages appeal is also in the music, with a good mix of new and old songs peppered throughout. On occasion the musical interludes slow things down, but mostly they’re used intelligently, in particular the clever use of tracks such as True Colours, Hello and Clint Eastwood.
The look of the film is pretty cool – everything is animated to look like it’s made of felt and clay, with the Bergen’s town showing a touch of Laika’s The Boxtrolls. Meanwhile, the Troll’s home looks like someone ate a packet of crayons and puked up a rainbow.
It should be noted that the Trolls have been slightly remodelled to ensure they look cuter. Not that anyone will care or object – it’s doubtful there are hardcore Troll aficionados ready to flip out about that, or the fact that some of the Trolls fart glitter (I’m not even making that up).
For the most part, Trolls is flimsy and fluffy but fun. There are some good gags, but there are also some weird what-the-hell moments (in particular a character called Cloud Guy) and it lacks the emotive power of anything by Pixar or Laika.
But don’t be afraid, parents. Trolls is like Smurfs, but way better and way funnier and actually a good movie.