By rights, Trolls World Tour is a movie that should have found its way onto the big screen. That’s not exclusively because it demands a theatrical presentation, nor is it entirely because of the cruel effect that pandemic and lockdown have had on the cinema industry. No, it’s because, for various reasons even before the cruel reality of COVID-19, it had as many as four different planned release dates this year.
Having now settled for a digital outlet, this sequel follows the same group of pop-and-scrapbook obsessed creatures from 2016’s Trolls, with best friends Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake) again at the forefront. As Poppy struggles with how best to be queen and her companion wonders how to declare his love for her, they’re suddenly exposed to a musically-diverse world outside of their home, Pop Village – and more importantly, a race of rival Trolls bent on conquering the world under the Hard Rock vision of their own Queen, Barb (Rachel Bloom).
The variety of the soundtrack has been heightened, its amplification to a level that would make guest voicer Ozzy Osbourne proud. Where Poppy and her pals remain the personification of bubblegum pop, being loud in every sense of the word, the other Troll tribes similarly come with all the trappings of their five respective genres: Techno, Classical, Country, Funk and of course, Hard Rock, brought to life by voices like Kelly Clarkson, Mary J Blige and Anderson .Paak. Most only get a passing glimpse but this wider world shows off a broader visual style than its colourful predecessor – there’s an occasional hint of stop motion animation, and the fuller landscapes lean into a yarn aesthetic reminiscent of Sony’s Little Big Planet videogames. Unfortunately, the trade-off seems to be a liberal, hit-and-miss use of cliché: whilst the Country Trolls get a dusty, self-aware Western approach, the villainous rockers get a rough deal, appearing as the doom-bringing stereotypes that organisations like the PMRC once reduced the genre to.
Being that they are no longer just prey to melancholy monsters, some of the series’ supporting cast are, like the music, more deeply embraced. Inevitably, there is an expanded role for James Corden’s Biggie, but it’s the four-legged Cooper (Ron Funches) that unlocks the heart of the movie. Despite having neither a big-name voice actor nor an overly cutesy design, it’s his exploration of his very-different look that opens up a celebration of the variety of this world. The first film championed the similarities that connect different groups, and though World Tour continues this message it also makes clear that the differences found in individuals and their cultures are just as valuable. It may be bold but clearly, there are very relevant messages to be found amongst the juvenile shenanigans.
There’s also a look into the flaws of Kendrick’s eternally-optimistic pink protagonist. Poppy remains headstrong and naïve in spite of her experiences in both films, and this impulsiveness stands as the biggest roadblock not just to her rule but to her relationship with the perceptive Branch. It’s unusual to see such a deep dive into character faults in a kids’ comedy like this, and unfortunately that need to keep both story and agenda simple means that whilst Poppy does eventually take on the traits of a “good Queen”, it feels more like an skill equipped than a lesson learned.
The real issue in this sequel, however, comes in the plotting. There’s enough slapstick, glitter and dance to get youngsters dancing in the aisles, but where the first Trolls showed the benefits of a simple quest – i.e. save your friends and make happy – the higher concept here of “preventing musical world domination” is spread a little thin. The details are a little tenuous; the musical “strings” that keep the world turning seem to exist just to give the quest a material commodity, and the origins of the tribes’ disputes are glossed over. There are also wordy, thoughtful scenes to accompany the film’s emotional “big ideas” that will ask a lot of young attention spans.
Happily for fidgety children and their disinterested guardians alike, these issues and any resulting restless outbursts can be overcome by the most powerful feature of home cinema – the pause button. That’s not the only benefit to housebound viewers: where films like The Hunt and The Invisible Man have been criticised for their $19.99/£15.99 price point, it’s proven to be of record success here. After all, a typical cinema outing for a film like this would probably cost parents more than that in overpriced concessions alone, making that price tag (which equates to the average price of two tickets) something of a discount on the usual family entertainment.
Whilst there is always much to mourn over another film relegated to much smaller screens, Trolls World Tour offers an entirely different form of distraction. This new quest may come close to outstaying its welcome in places, but whether home viewers want a kaleidoscopic escape or just 90 minutes to keep the kids busy, its six-inch heroes are, for the most part, up to the task.
Trolls World Tour is available to rent now from Amazon and other digital platforms. Have you seen it? If so, what are your thoughts on the movie? Let us know in the comments section of our website or on our Twitter and Instagram accounts.