Trolls Band Together, the third theatrically released animated movie musical based on the popular toys with the funky looking hair, is aimed squarely at two key demographics: the youngest moviegoers possible and parents whose bar for nostalgia is barely hovering above the ground. Colourful and hyperactive, but hardly ever amusing, Trolls Band Together will get the kiddies out of their seats and dancing around whatever theatre or room they find themselves in, but will mean absolute diddly to anyone else. A film that openly courts the ire of parents who will have to sit through this thing on repeat viewings until the end of time, Trolls Band Together knows its audience by understanding that they’ll take pretty much anything put in front of them, provided that it isn’t boring. That’s the one great thing about Trolls Band Together: it isn’t boring. But everything else…
Sullen troll Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) has been going through some old records and is getting nostalgic for the time he used to be part of a family band. It was a boy-band called BroZone, where he was the little, Michael Jackson-esque baby brother of the group. But before they could take their band to the next level, in-fighting caused them to break up, leaving Branch cynical and alone. One day, out of the blue, Branch and his kinda-sorta-unofficial girlfriend Poppy (Anna Kendrick) are visited by the band’s former “leader,” John Dory (Eric Andre), who worriedly informs baby brother that Floyd (Troye Sivan), the best singer of the group, has been kidnapped by a couple of plastic looking hacks – Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells) – who are literally bleeding the talent right out of the little guy to forward their own careers. The only way to save Floyd is to get the band back together and hit the perfect family harmony to shatter the diamond prison he’s been trapped in.
Trolls Band Together, directed by Walt Dohrn (who has been a part of the franchise from the very beginning) and Tim Heitz, offers up a simple story, simply told, which is fine enough for this sort of thing. Branch and Poppy do everything they can to bring the estranged brothers closer together, but John Dory’s arrogance and insistence to do things his way makes things tough going. The villains need to harness more troll power, and the closer Floyd gets to death, one of them starts to have second thoughts. Poppy runs into a sister she never knew she had (Camilla Cabello), but she always wanted. Everyone realizes they are stronger as a unit than they are apart. Will the power of brotherhood win out in the end? You bet, and things will go down exactly how one probably expects.
The visuals in Trolls Band Together don’t set any new or dazzling heights for the series, but they’re just as vibrant and textural as the previous instalments. The soundtrack of past and present hits – including a heavily hyped new track from Timberlake’s old boy band *NSYNC – is just a bunch of songs forcibly smashed into each other to form overproduced medleys. The selection of songs is stacked, but anyone familiar with the originals will probably think these reworkings and snippets sound downright bad in comparison. This is a series that after two other movies and a handful of shorts knows its formula and staunchly refuses to deviate away from the elements made it so successful. It looks great, and feels familiar enough, but Trolls Band Together also isn’t trying very hard to entertain or move things along. It just adds a few more characters that could be turned into toys.
It’s not all bad. The voice cast is particularly solid, with Timberlake and Kendrick still doing their thing as the downbeat dude and the ultra-peppy, optimistic queen. The performers tasked with playing Branch’s bandmates – including Kid Cudi as the fun loving member and Daveed Diggs as the heartthrob who let himself go – get some of the best material to work with on a comedic level. Zosia Mamet steals the show as a sentient ball of crimped paper strips that serves as the villains’ stressed out personal assistant. The set and character designs are nice whenever the animators are allowed to take more ambitious swings with the visuals, which is often enough to stave off outright monotony.
But unless you have a soft spot for groan inducing, below average level dad jokes, possess a high tolerance for stale pop culture references, or are the parent of a kid who just wants to shut their mind off and have a good time, Trolls Band Together isn’t for you. Truth be told, I had more fun watching the littlest of kids in attendance at my screening bouncing in their seats and dancing along to the trolls’ antics than I did watching anything that was unfolding on screen. I wish that energy from the young crowd was infectious, but at least it was heartwarming to see them having a fun time. They were probably only paying the barest attention to what was on screen themselves, but the enjoyment was obvious. This film was made for those kids, and while I think Trolls Band Together is an actively bad movie on most levels, I also can’t credibly dunk on their good time more than I already have.
Trolls Band Together opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, November 17, 2023.
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