Courtesy of Universal/Dreamworks Animation
Look, I understand I’m not in the core kindergarten demographic for “Trolls: World Tour” - the sequel to the surprise blockbuster “Trolls” that birthed the Justin Timberlake earworm “Can’t Stop The Feeling” - but that doesn’t mean there isn’t elements to enjoy in an otherwise bright and shiny ad used to sell merchandise.
“Trolls: World Tour” does rehash some of the basic narrative structure of the first outing, though, I’d argue “World Tour” has been upped to scale considering it’s the first major studio release to bypass theaters and head straight to home viewing. The film will bring a much needed boost for parents and kiddos tired of watching “Frozen 2” on repeat (the rental is $19.99 and you can watch it to your heart's content for 48 hours).
One thing working in favor of “World Tour” is that it falls under the Dreamworks Animation umbrella, and the crisp, fluffy, and vibrant characters look so plush it’s like I could reach into my TV and hug them, and that certainly will get any young Trolls fan excited. Of course, “World Tour” doesn’t shy away from its musical roots as the film tells the story of Queen Barb (voiced by Rachel Bloom) who descends on the land of “Techno” trolls, and makes her plan immediately known: she wants to be one nation of Trolls - under rock and vows to convert every troll community into rock trolls. Enter the bubbly and scrap-booking heathen Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick) who's just elated to receive what she perceives as an “invitation” from Barb and is pumped to befriend a fellow Queen, because - as one of the opening songs suggests - “Trolls just wanna have fun!”
On the side, Branch (Timberlake) is stuck in the friend zone and is madly in love with Poppy but is conflicted because he doesn’t have confidence in her ability as a leader (she doesn’t listen to differing opinions - perhaps a metaphor in these politically divisive times?) He offers his suspicions on Barb’s invitation, which Poppy dismisses and she sets off to meet Barb anyway.
On their journey, Poppy and Branch begin to discover a shocking history about the legions of troll communities and learn they are actually divided into six different factions based solely on musical genres: funk, techno, classical, country, hard rock, and pop. Each one represented by a different color guitar string that once used to be played in harmony, which didn’t last forever as each faction got tired of the other’s musical inclinations and took their respective strings and formed their own colonies. Barb’s plan is simple: wipe out all the factions and make rock the defining genre.
It’s an age old lesson about embracing differences and accepting other cultures told through several cute musical troll injections. A good sequel is supposed to build upon the world set forth in the previous installments which I believe “World Tour” accomplishes as the writing team (of which there are several) have concocted a whimsical premise that creatively expands the troll universe. Despite a side-plot or two getting in the way of the main story, or the humor aimed specifically at toddlers (parents shall not forget who Tiny Diamond is) falling painfully flat, “World Tour” is able to lay out its own moderately satisfying narrative path - plus Sam Rockwell adds his vocal chops to a country troll and it might be the best casting of 2020.
Walt Dohrn returns to the Trolls directing chair again, and he certainly understands the formula that made the first installment tick: lots of toe-tapping beats and an entourage of bright and flashy colors (with a dash of glitter). But it’s the music that carries most of “World Tour” and though there isn’t a multi-platinum sensation in the form of “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” there’s still plenty to embrace and dance along with which, combined with the solid vocal work by Bloom, Kendrick, Timberlake, and James Corden, should make this fuzzy sequel a solid choice for families looking for something to take their minds off the world for a quick 90 minutes.
TROLLS: WORLD TOUR is now available to rent from various on-demand services.