Trolls is solid, visually-stunning entertainment for kids with a positive message, but there isn't much there for adults.
Trolls are the happiest creatures in the world, spending their days singing, dancing, and hugging. They are the polar opposites of the Bergens, ogre-like monsters that are miserable for a majority of their existence. The only way for the Bergens to find bliss is by eating a Troll, and the citizens of Bergen Town come together on a holiday dubbed Trollstice, where the main Chef (Christine Baranski) picks out the best one for each Bergen. Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), son of the king (John Cleese) is eager to take part in the festivities, since he has never eaten a Troll before. Unfortunately for him, the Trolls devise an escape plan on Trollstice, leaving Gristle upset and Chef banished from the town.
Twenty years later, Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and the rest of the Trolls live in perfect harmony, seemingly safe from any harm. On the anniversary of their liberation from the Bergens, Poppy and her friends throw a loud and wild party, despite warnings by the curmudgeonly doomsday prepper Branch (Justin Timberlake). When the noise attracts the attention of the outcast Chef, she comes to collect the Trolls so she can reclaim her former glory in the kingdom. With those closest to her captured, Poppy must head off to Bergen Town with Branch in an effort to save her companions.
Trolls is DreamWorks Animation's attempt to capitalize on the popularity of The LEGO Movie, in that it is a film adaptation of a popular toy line (in this case, Good Luck Trolls) without a clear narrative through line. The hope going into it was that the movie could be enjoyable enough to connect with audiences while kickstarting a new franchise. On that front, the filmmakers were only somewhat successful. Trolls is solid, visually-stunning entertainment for kids with a positive message, but there isn't much there for adults.
An area of strength in Trolls is the visual style. Directors Walt Dohrn and Mike Mitchell craft a world that is vibrant and colorful, giving the variety of characters their own unique design to stand out. This is most evident in the numerous musical numbers (fair warning: this is very much an animated musical), which contain almost psychedelic imagery that's eye-popping and commands the viewer's attention. In this regard, 3D - while always up to individual preference - is recommended since the added dimension gives these sequences another layer to make them more immersive. The soundtrack, which is a combination of original songs and well-known licensed tunes, is also quite effective, providing the film with some catchy pop-infused set pieces, as well as genuinely emotional beats.
Unfortunately, Trolls lacks the substance required to take it to another level. In contrast of recent animated offerings like The LEGO Movie and even Storks, the humor on display does not have much wit or cleverness. The film's comedy is geared mainly to the juice box crowd and very few instances will garner a chuckle for the parents in attendance. Many of the characters (including the main duo of Poppy and Branch) are thin sketches in the screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, with one defining trait and not much depth. There are attempts to flesh them out, but that comes fairly late in the proceedings and prevents their arcs from being as satisfying as they could have been. The setup in the first act is rushed and ineffective, barely establishing the heroes before sending them off on their adventure.
In terms of the voice cast, Kendrick and Timberlake are the clear highlights, using their natural charisma and vocal talents to bring Poppy and Branch to life. The two have a nice chemistry with each other, riffing on the tried and true odd couple pairing that so many family films have used in the past. Kendrick is her typically bubbly self, always looking on the bright side of things; Timberlake plays against type amusingly as a downbeat and sarcastic Troll with a cynical outlook on life. The limitations of the script prevent their relationship from truly tugging at the heartstrings, but the actors make the most of the material. On the supporting side of things, Baranski is a scary presence as the villain Chef, while Mintz-Plasse's Gristle is one of the more sympathetic figures in the movie. Zooey Deschanel also has a key role as the Bergen Bridget and gets a couple of moments in the spotlight. Again, none of the characters here are exactly three-dimensional, but youngsters will get a kick out of their antics.
It will mean more to kids than older moviegoers, but there is a nice message at the center of Trolls. The story deals with subjects such as finding happiness and overcoming obstacles to accomplish goals. Nothing gets beyond the surface level, but the movie nevertheless features good morals and lessons for impressionable children. The emotional aspect isn't nearly as complex as something like Inside Out, but it doesn't have to be. For the purposes of its narrative, the themes of Trolls resonate with viewers of a certain age and slightly elevate the final product to something well-meaning with the best intensions.
In the end, Trolls is not the studio-driven cash grab some feared it could be, but it won't go down as one of the best animated films of the year, either. Dohrn and Mitchell earn points for giving the movie a unique flair, however, they're let down by the script that doesn't try to be more than a standard kids film. Trolls will probably make for a fun family trip to the movies, though only if the children are interested in seeing it.