Although 2016’s DreamWorks animated hit Trolls was based on the perennial line of long-haired troll dolls, its main appeal to audiences was its hyperactive pop-music soundtrack, led by the Justin Timberlake hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” So the new sequel Trolls World Tour overloads on the slickly produced music, to go along with its more-is-more visual aesthetic full of bright colors and explosions of glitter. It’s all a bit exhausting, like gorging on a vat full of cotton candy, but kids who’ve had the first movie playing on repeat will probably have fun with this one, too.
And since Trolls World Tour is bypassing its planned theatrical release to go straight to VOD while theaters are shut down during the current health crisis, families with bored kids are clearly its target audience. The movie offers plenty of shiny objects for kids to look at, along with those upbeat, catchy songs and a simple lesson of appreciation for diversity. Parents may be less enamored of the movie’s sugar-rush atmosphere, although they might appreciate the trippier moments and connect with the surprisingly wonky treatise on musical genres.
Most of World Tour is pretty simplistic, but there’s a weird undercurrent of music-critic debate to the structure of the story. After saving the troll village from giants in the first movie (which is summarized in a few seconds during opening narration and otherwise never mentioned), Queen Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) now rules over a happy village of singing, hugging trolls living in harmony, and her best friend Branch (Justin Timberlake) is by her side. But soon Poppy and Branch discover that their enclave is not the only home of trolls. There are actually six musically themed troll tribes, which were once united but went their separate ways years ago.
Poppy and Branch belong to the pop trolls, and there are groups representing country, funk, classical, techno and rock (the movie’s skewed conception of the six primary genres of music). Barb (Rachel Bloom), the queen of the rock trolls, is on a rampage to take over all the tribes, eradicating all other forms of music and turning everyone into rockers. Poppy and Branch go on a quest through the other troll lands to warn them of Barb’s plans, although they are mostly too late to do much of anything, and they feel more like passive observers than active protagonists much of the time.
The idea of rock music as the only “authentic” music and other genres as somehow fake and inferior has inspired heated arguments in critical circles for years, and World Tour briefly engages with some semi-serious ideas about appropriation before devolving into a feel-good dance party. The stronger message is a more generic plea for respecting people’s differences, and that’s more than enough for young viewers to take away. More likely, they’ll remember the onslaught of colorful new characters, from a big-haired country-music troll voiced by Kelly Clarkson to a smooth-jazz troll whose soporific music is insidiously mesmerizing.
The musical numbers (even those that rework famous existing songs) largely flatten the various genres into one glossy, overproduced mush, sort of negating the main point of the story, but they are pleasant enough to keep viewers humming afterward. The movie’s design sense is still driven by excess, but there’s always something pretty to look at, and it’s a bit of a shame that it won’t be seen on a big screen. Although everything is kid-friendly, this time there are more surreal moments that seem designed to appeal to adult viewers who may stumble across the movie in an altered state.
It’s unlikely that solo adult viewers will fork out the high VOD price for World Tour on its initial release, though, and it’s hard to say whether the experiment in bypassing theaters will work out. If it had been released normally, World Tour would have been another forgettable animated movie sandwiched between major Pixar releases. Now, it’s some kind of trailblazer, although as a movie, it’s still entirely forgettable.