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So, we live in a film industry where if your animated movie is a major hit, you, as a studio, will make a TV series, or, at the very least, a sequel. Normally, this sometimes comes off as short-sighted, because depending on how successful it is, you have to take in the context surrounding the film on release. Sometimes, the film was just that good, and sometimes, it was released during a time where there was a lack of competition. From films like The Nut Job 2 to The Secret Life of Pets 2, sometimes, the franchise isn’t strong enough to get people back into the theater to see the next film. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t get good sequels. We get plenty of sequels that are as good as the original or surpass them in a few ways. One of those examples is the sequel to Trolls, Trolls: World Tour.
Directed by Walt Dohrn, this sequel to the 2016 DreamWorks Animation surprise hit is mostly in the news right now for being the first major animated film of 2020 to go directly to digital and on-demand. Onward doesn’t count, since it got a theatrical release. So far, as of writing this, it is getting mostly positive reviews, and from what rental and digital purchase services are saying, it’s doing pretty well financially. So, what do I personally think about this musical sequel? Do I find it superior to the original, or is this another sequel that got greenlit too quickly?
Our story revolves around our leads from the last film, Queen Poppy, voiced by Anna Kendrick, and Branch, voiced by Justin Timberlake. They find out from Poppy’s dad that there are different kinds of musical races of trolls. These include country, funk, techno, classical, and rock. Sadly, the rock troll, Queen Barb, voiced by Rachel Bloom, is trying to get the six magical strings and rule the world. Can Branch and Poppy find the queen of rock and roll and stop her ways?
Now, on the surface, and to an extent, this film looks like a lot of the same brightly colored family entertainment, but just like the previous film, there is more under the felt-like look of the world. So, the first film tackled themes about happiness, what does World Tour tackle? Well, for something based on a bunch of rainbow-colored hairy troll dolls, this film deals with themes of colonialism, LGBT elements, cultural appropriation, and plenty of commentary about pop music as a whole. Yeah, for a film that looks so candy-coated sweet, you wouldn’t expect that there would be themes this mature, and yet, here they are. Much of the dialogue in the film gives off these vibes, and the twist in the film also reinforces these topics. It leads to the film running into the same situation as WB’s Smallfoot, where it’s a comedy to a degree, and they do keep a lot of the weird trippy visuals and jokes, but it’s more story-focused. They like focusing on the clashing ideals and what happened to the different races of musical trolls, and I highly commend DreamWorks and the team that made this film for wanting to go a creative and mature route with the story. This is why, even with all of their faults, people still support DreamWorks, because, sometimes, they find a way to take an idea that sounds dumb on face value and run with it. I love it when a studio decides to do this, because it shows that they have an idea about how to make the film work. I’m not going to say other films based on intellectual properties didn’t try, but DreamWorks Animation was able to go the distance to make a more memorable product.
Animation-wise, the film still does look good. It’s doing more of that felt-like fabric that comes right out of Kirby’s Epic Yarn or Yoshi’s Wooly World. It’s even adding in more faux stop-motion movements into certain characters and parts of the world. It’s not going as far as to say, Netflix’s The Willoughbys, but the DreamWorks Trolls series still has one of the more unique looks out of any animated film series. Casting-wise, I’m mixed. On one hand, Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake were fine, and they have decent lines and good chemistry, but I found myself enjoying the other actors more. Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Ron Funches, and Sam Rockwell left more impressions on me than the other major celebrities. I also won’t deny that the celebrity casting was distracting. I get that everyone is enjoying a Kelly Clarkson bonanza, and she probably got on here the same way Gwen Stefani did in the first film by being on The Voice, but I found her distracting as the leader of the Country Trolls. Even minor characters who were played by celebrities were distracting, like the K pop group Red Velvet, the McElroy Brothers popping up all over the place that are only in there because they made some internet campaign to be in the sequel, even if they added nothing to the film, and you get the idea. To be fair, I did like some of the celebrity castings with George Clinton and Mary J Blige as the king and queen Funk Trolls, and Anderson Paak probably gets the best scene in the entire film. It’s a mixed bag for me in terms of the voice cast. The music is mostly cover songs, but they do have more original songs in this film than the last one, and I think if we get a third film, they should do all original songs.
So, let’s talk about the faults in order of the least problematic to the biggest issue the film has under its belt. First off, this film stuffs in a couple of multi-song sequences, and unless you are a kid, you will find these parts obnoxious. One of those points is meant to be obnoxious, but it doesn’t mean it gets a free pass. When you get past those two moments, everything else is pretty okay pacing-wise. Also, for a film about how our differences make us unique and we should join forces into harmony with those unique traits, they still bash a couple of music genres like smooth jazz and disco. I think that last one, while funny in a cute way, is unfortunate due to the real reason why disco burned out so quickly, which is way darker than I have time to get into with this review. Once again, DreamWorks’ obsession with side characters that don’t do anything or add anything to the story is obnoxious. They have a few trolls from the original that don’t return for some unknown reason, and yet they introduce a new one voiced by Ester Dean, and she does nothing. She doesn’t have a major point to the overall story, and many of the returning troll characters don’t offer substance either. They are there, because they have to be, and I don’t care if they have more personality in the show, because people shouldn’t have to add an eight-season show to their list of shows to watch before this film. While the gaggle of music industry cameos of famous singers and musicians is appropriate here, many of them could have been replaced by voice actors and nothing would be missed.
Now then, let’s get into the real meaty issue with this film, Branch, and Poppy, but mostly Branch. Branch is another male lead in an animated sequel that has absolutely nothing to do. His entire arc was finished by the first film, and what does he get? A flimsy “I gotta tell Poppy how much I love her and I don’t know how to” plot. Yeah, not only does he get the same treatment as Gnomeo in Sherlock Gnomes, Ralph in Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Kristoff in Frozen II, Branch is quite possibly the worst of them. They even regressed his character’s design to be more like how he was in the first film. I don’t get that decision. At least you can talk about some commentary or themes with Kristoff’s Lost in the Woods sequence. Poppy gets a slightly better story, but she teeters on being too unlikable and stubborn. I get it’s the parallel story to Queen Barb, but you have to balance out a story arc with this kind of stubborn character carefully, because she could come off as more unlikable and annoying than anything else.
While it aims high and doesn’t make the landing, I still enjoyed watching Trolls: World Tour. It’s one of those films that I think people will talk more about as time goes on. Now, this is a unique situation for this film as to how I would recommend it. On one hand, if you have kids, or want to do a watch party, then, yeah, I highly recommend checking it out. It will be worth the $20 asking price for rentals. On the other hand, if you are hesitant to put that much down for a rental, I would wait to buy it or rent it at a lower price point. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and I stand by my criticisms, but I still enjoyed watching it. We will have to see if we come back to this world in the future outside of the new animated series going up on NBC’s service Peacock in the future. It’s kind of up to you if you want to support it. Now then, next time, we will be talking about Netflix’s first major animated film of 2020, The Willoughbys.