Trolls (2016)

“Why don’t you try scrapbooking them to freedom?”

Justin’s rating: A hair-raising experience

Justin’s review: One thing that parenting classes really don’t emphasize enough is that after all of the late-night feedings, emergency diaper changes, and motion-activated talking toys that shave off a good six years of your life when you stumble across them in the dark, all moms and dads are in for a barrage of truly terrible kid movies. And they’re terrible because very few studios actually make any serious effort, choosing instead to deliver the bare minimum wrapped up in poop jokes and well-worn tropes. What’s even worse is that kids like watching these insipid tales over and over again, which is why every parent has some sort of low-level PTSD at having gone through a forum of unsanctioned torture.

What I want to say here is that if you do happen to stumble across a kids movie that doesn’t fling low standards into your eyes and laugh maniacally, well, you fall to your knees and thank God that you’ve found something to help you retain your sanity. For me, Trolls was that movie.

And who would have thought it, right? At first glance, this looks like the formula for pure pain: It’s based on an ugly doll fad that went out of style decades ago, it’s voiced by pop stars, and it features one character who only speaks in auto-tune. Yet it’s weirdly good, subverting every expected opportunity to suck and instead pulling out a funny and visually interesting story that revels in its weirdness and delights in poking fun at itself. It’s like Trolls is saying, “Yeah, this is a really dumb idea, sooooo… why don’t we have some fun with it?”

What is this dumb idea? There’s a kingdom of obscenely happy Trolls who literally vomit rainbows and pencil “hugs” into their daily schedule, but all of that happiness comes at a cost. They are delightfully delicious to the ugly, slovenly, continually depressed Bergen, who enjoy eating the Trolls to get a burst of borrowed joy. When the Trolls’ village elder and most of the Trolls are kidnapped, it’s up to the elder’s daughter Poppy — a fiercely optimistic Anna Kendrick — to save the day. Well, her and Branch (Justin Timberlake), who’s a colorless Troll doomsday prepper.

Branch and Poppy’s adventures end up leading them to the Bergen kingdom, which they navigate with the help of a servant girl named Bridget (who has a crush on the derpy king’s son Gristle Jr.). Cue a whole lot of musical numbers and a facile message about happiness coming from within and not, you know, Troll murder, and eventually the two kingdoms come to a peaceful resolution.

Yes, yes, it sounds so dumb and I won’t fight anyone who says we haven’t heard this before, but the charm is in the details. Trolls gets a lot of fun playing Poppy and Branch at two ends of a very extreme spectrum, and there’s something hilarious about how they both earnestly play unbridled passion and eyerolling cynicism, respectively. And just as in The Lego Movie, you can tell that the creators of this film realized how odd their setting in by how they keep pushing the envelope of weird until you find yourself laughing without the express permission of your brain. A lot of the best jokes are blink-and-you’ll-miss-em amazing, which makes this a strong candidate to rewatch.

I know some people who really hate Trolls, and for them, no amount of self-parody will get past what they see as just another dumb kid movie. I say it’s better than that.

I say it, and you best believe it.

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