Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Neither Hair Nor There

Year: 2016
Director:Walt Dohrn & Mike Mitchell
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

The Troll dolls are a terrible concept for a movie. They haven’t been relevant for eons, there’s no inherent narrative to their existence, and any film about them could only be a crass cash-in. Then again, that’s what they said about The Lego Movie, and look how that turned out. Then again again, that’s what they said about Smurfs and look how that turned out. Case-by-case basis it is, then. Let’s do this thing.

For the record, Sergio dragged me to see this. It was not my choice.

In Trolls, the Trolls are a happy-go-lucky race hiding from the Bergens, ravenous giants who believe that the only way to achieve happiness is by eating Trolls. Look at how many times I had to say “Trolls” just in that sentence. This is gonna be a bumpy ride.

To make a long story short, bubbly Troll Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) throws a raucous party that attracts the attention of an outcast Bergen chef (Christine Baranski) who captures a handful of Trolls that she hopes to use on the adolescent King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to take over the crown somehow. Poppy must team up with the pessimistic survivalist Troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) to travel across the forest to Bergen town and save her friends, maybe learning a thing or two about true happiness along the way.

Like kids need lessons on being giddy buffoons with no sense of personal space.

Trolls is everything wrong with Dreamworks animation. It’s packed with a billion characters designed to both sell dolls and shoehorn in cameos from celebrities you forgot existed (cough cough, Russell Brand), at the expense of defining any side-Troll’s personality beyond maybe half a character trait, if they’re lucky. It closes on a  big ol’ dance party that, like Home before it did for Rihanna, implies that Justin Timberlake music has the power to heal the universe. And it carries a lethal dose of juvenile, scatological humor. There’s literally a character whose only function is to fart glitter. And I don’t know why all kids’ movies in the past decade have decided that people spontaneously poop when they’re scared, but I’ve been sitting through these jokes since at least 2007 (AKA the worst scene in Enchanted), and let me clue you in on a little secret: They’re not getting any funnier.

But here’s the thing. Trolls does all this, yet it’s still inexplicably kind of delightful. There’s nothing new under the fuzzy yellow sun to be found in this story, but the movie succeeds on sheer charm, led by two of the most likeable actors we have on tap these days. Anna Kendrick embodies the usually irritating archetype of the chipper, naïve character (which was last successful some four years ago in Wreck-It Ralph) with a layer of soft humanity that makes her an actual character rather than a pest, and Justin Timberlake Odd Couples the sh*t out of her, developing an easy, warm chemistry between the mismatched characters.

You can tell the side performers are having fun too. Although not a single one of the assorted B-Trolls leaves any kind of impression, save for a deliciously creepy baby that steals each of her two scenes, Zooey Deschanel works it as the phlegmatic Bergen scullery maid, crafting a character that for once isn’t a Dreamy Lollipop Girl. And Christine Baranski is pure, syrupy evil, building a campy pantomime character out of a villain she is well aware doesn’t make much sense.

Look, she was in Mamma Mia! She could do this with her hands tied behind her back.

Trolls also boasts an overarching aesthetic that – while not totally mind-blowing – at least shows that people were trying, every step of the way. There’s a lot of fun business with the Trolls’ hair, using it as a malleable camouflage device to create all kinds of bizarre shapes and structures around the characters, some of which are incredibly inventive. And miraculously, they only make one terrible “hair” pun.

Pretty much everything is just a step or two above generic, but that’s all enough to make it one of the better children’s films out there at the moment. Take the soundtrack, a typically inane mixture of the world’s most obvious pop standards (“Celebrate” by Kool & the Gang, “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire…. It’s like they found a list of the most overused movie tracks, accidentally clicked “purchase,” and decided to roll with it) and generic bubblegum originals, but it inexplicably works.

Some tracks, like a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” benefit from Kendrick Pitch Perfecting it up and producing a quite lovely new arrangement. Others, like Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” are supported by a strong vocal actor (Zooey Deschanel in this case) working with the trippy designs to make something vibrant and idiosyncratic. And then there’s Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” pulled out in a moment of need, which briefly transforms the movie into a subdued, beautiful light show in the indisputable best moment of the film.

The originals fare just as well, hitting typical musical theater beats with gusto. Kendrick’s “Get Back Up Again” is the best girl power pop track in a year that’s riddled with them, buoyed by Kendrick’s unrelenting energy. And Bergentown is introduced with an amusingly dour number that’s part The Producers’ “Unhappy,” part Little Shop of Horrors’ “Skid Row,” all deliciously overwrought misery.

It’s just plain fun, and while the humor is mostly forgettable (they trot out “YOLO” a flat two years too late for a regretful gag), each of the cast members is given the chance to nail a line or two. If you have kids or an affinity for animated cinema, you could certainly do worse. It’s certainly better than the aforementioned Home and this year’s The Secret Life of Pets.

TL;DR: Trolls is a surprisingly decent, harmless family film.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1000

No comments:

Post a Comment