Review: Trolls Just Wanna Violate The Geneva Conventions (Moonlight Cinema)15 February 2021
Let me start by saying this: I babysit. I love children—their big silly balloon heads and their ability to memorise movie songs and run around in gummy half-formed skeletons with absurdly placed centers of gravity. So if you know of any four-foot-and-under cartilaginous gremlins in need of a reliable babysitter who will haul them by their sticky hands to fun events (like an open-air screening of Trolls: World Tour), tell their parents to hit my line.
Alas, as this past year has proven less than ideal for allowing strangers into one’s home to look after children, much less parade them around for sightseeing, my clientele has significantly shrunk. Thus, to make the best use of my Moonlight Cinema double pass, I dragged the child-averse intellectual boy I’m seeing (hi Ev!) to the second installment in the Trolls film franchise. Armed with my babysitting-induced knowledge of Trolls lore and his understanding of geopolitical tensions and music theory, we lay down on a blanket amongst about a million toddlers and their parents to watch Trolls World Tour as one giant, sweaty group.
Right out the gate, this movie is extraordinarily visually pleasing. Individual wisps of hair waved as the Trolls moved their technicolor heads to the beat; and the combination of CGI with 2D animation (physically created with felt and paper), as well as the sudden insertions of live action props, activated my primal baby brain senses. Where was all this movie magic when I was an infant watching the stiffly animated, uncanny valley Barbie movies on loop in the early 2000’s? Kids these days, I tell you—so spoiled.
Sadly, World Tour lacks the plot coherence of its predecessor. Newly crowned Pop Troll queen Poppy and nervy sidekick Branch are back, enjoying pop in peace after having defeated the carnivorous Bergens in the first film. Their Hammer Time celebrations are interrupted when they learn that Rock Troll queen Barb is on a mission to eradicate all forms of music and convert every genre of Troll into a hard-rock devotee. In what must have been an agonizing Dreamworks boardroom decision to narrow all forms of music into the top five, Barb intends to usurp Pop, Funk, Techno, Classical, and Country music, employing the minor subgenres of KPop, Smooth Jazz, Reggaeton, and Yodeling as henchmen and bounty hunters. Poppy is intent on catching up to Barb as the rock diva manifest-destinies through the fractured Troll world, but comes to learn that—surprise!—the Pop Trolls were the original musical imperialists that the other genres broke away from long ago. Who cares if that makes sense? Not the screenwriters, for sure! Anyways…
There’s definitely meant to be a diversity theme in this story, what with the whole discovery of new music by the protagonist Poppy. It’s a message that is vaguely alluded to throughout, but every time the film seems on the brink of a multicultural breakthrough, we are interrupted by a dance party or an interaction with one of the minor subgenre Trolls where the joke is clearly on their weird stereotypical accent.
Motives are unclear and the stakes just don’t seem high enough for anything in this movie to happen the way it does. I mean, Barb, does introducing the world to heavy metal really warrant musical genocide? If my father were (voiced by) Ozzy Osbourne, I’d want his respect too, but aren’t there better ways to prove your rock-n-roll talent than to wipe out whole civilizations?
What the film lacks in storytelling, it does not make up for in musicality. There’s Anderson Paak singing about the original sin of Trolls theology (Ev’s jaw just hung open for the entirety of this sequence), but c’mon, you’re going to tell me ‘Trolls Just Want To Have Good Times’ holds even a CANDLE to ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’?! Even the original songs are uninspiring; I believe the three-year-old behind us on the lawn performed a more compelling rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Born To Die’ than the Country Troll queen herself.
In case you were as confused by the plotline as Ev and I were, here were our alternative interpretations of the film: Mine is that World Tour is an origin story explaining the evolutionary genesis of Trolls. Trolls are mortal—Poppy and Branch attend a Country Trolls funeral, and we watch as Troll Worm Mr. Dinkles meets Troll Worm Jesus in the afterlife. Trolls also have a strong musical culture involving songs from the 20th century and beyond. Naturally, I concluded that the Trollsverse is a post-apocalyptic new world order. All prior existing organisms were wiped out by a nuclear disaster, the radiation from which caused inanimate objects to gain sentience and for intelligent life to re-evolve in the form of the glittery 6-inch tall hairballs known as Trolls. The Trolls picked up the last surviving pieces of humanity—music recordings—and split off via allopatric speciation to create different music genres of Trolls, explaining why KPop and Reggaeton exist independently of, y’know, Korea or Latin America.
Ev’s big-brained art degree musician take was that Trolls: World Tour is representative of the way that music has long had cross-cultural influences, but mainstream pop music in particular has been borrowing from other genres for decades, particularly from music created by Black artists, without giving credit. The so-called protagonist is really a modern liberal woman who sees no color (or music genre), and expects past transgressions by her own coloniser tribe to be forgiven without reparations through the sheer force of friendship and willpower. “Revisionist history…funk music…it’s all coming together,” said Ev of this groundbreaking historical drama .
Watching Trolls: World Tour on a blanket under the stars was romantic, confusing, and a reinforcement of how difficult it is to have a young family. The ending is okay: Poppy and Barb bond over their daddy issues, they all agree to no more genocide, and then just like at the end of the first movie, there’s a big dance party. In the golden sex-joke-in-PG-film ratio I like to call the Trifuckta, World Tour also has exactly three sex and drug allusions—the perfect number of inappropriate jokes to make any children’s movie tolerable for adult viewing. Do these make up for the lack of depth in the rest of the movie? No. As a parent, is it worth paying god-knows-how-much to bring your whole family to? Also no. Am I being too harsh when I am the furthest thing from this movie’s target audience? Possibly. I’ll give the movie a 6.9 with a final verdict of: where were the Bollywood Trolls?