Young children will undoubtedly be enchanted by the riot of color and cuteness that is “Trolls.” Older kids, on the other hand, may find the sweetness quotient awfully high (snarky adolescent boys will probably get more of a charge out of the notoriously bad “Troll 2” from 1990), and while adults may enjoy the playback of old tunes used as musical numbers (along with some new songs), they might be disappointed that this line of toys hasn’t been treated with a similar degree of wit as that lavished not long ago on legos
Parents might also be taken aback by some aspects of the story concocted by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. The underlying premise of the movie, after all, is that the darling, cheery trolls—modeled after the little dolls that have been on toy shelves, flashing their heads of flaming neon hair, for more than half a century—are considered a dainty gastronomic delicacy by the Bergens, a race of dour ogres whose only source of happiness, under the rule of King Gristle (voiced by John Cleese), consists of plucking a troll off the troll-tree on their Trollstice holiday and devouring it. Unfortunately for them, Troll King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor) engineers an underground escape of his tribe to a distant area of the surrounding forest, where their settle in blissful security despite the determination of Chef (Christine Baranski), the nasty cook for King Gristle, to recapture them.
After ten years lapse, the trolls have become so unconcerned about the danger of the Bergens that when Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) plans a boisterous party, despite warning from the tribe’s Cassandra, Branch (Justin Timberlake), that the racket could attract unwanted attention. Branch proves prophetic, of course: the noise (and an accompanying light show) lead Chef to the shindig. Before long many of Poppy’s closest friends are back in Bergen hands. What’s she to do but go to rescue them, with Branch—obviously infatuated with her—reluctantly tagging along.
Their journey brings them closer, of course, though, but also introduces new characters: a jokey Cloud Guy (Walt Dohrn), who helps them find a way into the castle where the captured trolls are being held, but especially Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), a Bergen scullery maid in Chef’s kitchen who’s infatuated with Prince Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Taking a self-admitted turn from the Cinderella story, Poppy, Branch and the other trolls do a makeover on Bridget, leading to a romance between her and the prince and winning her over as a staunch supporter of the troll cause, which proves the key to their escape.
But of course that’s not all. The Bergens must also be taught that happiness doesn’t depend on what you consume but what you feel inside—which, of course, they are. Branch learns that lesson as well, as a result of his adventure with Poppy. And in the end everybody is in good spirits without anybody becoming tonight’s dinner, and the crowd of giants and shrimps celebrate together in a musical jamboree.
That’s not unusual here, because “Trolls” is a musical; along the way to its rambunctious conclusion, there are plenty of other similar numbers, some of them newly minted tunes but many old standards. One of the most memorable comes with the resurrection of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”—especially appropriate because so much of the charm of the storytelling lies in the hues of the characters and backgrounds. But many other old favorites show up along the way.
The result is a picture that urchins will take to much the way they did, for example, to the Teletubbies. Older kids will probably be more resistant, and while adults should appreciate the musical interludes, they might find the picture elsewhere lacking in the sort of pop culture pizzazz that many other animated features dole out nowadays. They might also regret that much of the supporting voice cast—which includes such stalwarts as Cleese, Russell Brand and James Corden—is underused, though Kendrick is properly perky and Timberlake acceptable (though it would take a more accomplished actor than he is to pull off the maudlin monologue Branch delivers about why he’s become such a downbeat guy), and Deschanel and Mintz-Plasse score as an unlikely couple.
The result us that you might label “Trolls” as “F.T.O.”—meaning “for tots only,” like the Smurfs, though the studio is obviously hoping it can appeal beyond that demo. Beyond that, the toy company will certainly benefit. The little ones will certainly want some of the little critters for Christmas.