Voices of: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Russell Band, James Corden
Director: Mike Mitchell
Trolls, the latest venture from DreamWorks Animation studios, is a light-hearted, sunshine-happy musical about single-mindedly sunshine-happy Trolls. The heart of the film is premised on the question, “What is happiness?” — the answer to which is as elusive as the question is profound. In a rabidly consumerist world, perhaps the most appropriate description can be quoted from Mad Men’s Don Draper: happiness is “a moment before you need more happiness”. One can be happy as long as one has access to consumable material excess. In the film, the Bergens believe that their happiness depends on their ability to eat the Trolls. Gluttony becomes a solution to their emotional void.
“How will I ever be happy?” asks Gristle Junior, the crown prince (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), when the Trolls manage to escape before he has had a chance to partake of their rainbow delightfulness. His father replies, “You will never be happy. Never.” Thus the kingdom of Bergen Town plunges into darkness and degradation. In a sharp contrast, the Trolls are happy from within. Theirs is a spiritual, wholesome happiness that is domiciled in the values of love and friendship.
The Trolls live peacefully in a tree until they are driven out by the Bergens, large, monstrous creatures who are certain that they can be happy only if they eat a Troll — an act which can best be described as a rite of passage for the Bergens, a “Trollstice”. Twenty years after moving into a secret cove, the Trolls spend their time hugging each other on an hourly basis, singing and dancing, and having a positive attitude towards everything in life.
And Poppy, the Troll princess (Anna Kendrick), defends her tribe’s right to indulge in these acts by throwing “big, loud, crazy” parties every now and then. Providing a foil to Poppy’s euphoria is Branch (Justin Timberlake), a sullen, unsociable Troll, who is paranoid about another attack from the Bergens. His party-pooping nature does not seem very different from the Internet trolls. His fears come true when the Bergen Chef (Christine Baranski), in charge of preparing Troll dishes, discovers their hideout and abducts several Trolls in order to impress and wield control over Gristle Junior, now the Bergen king.
“No Troll Left Behind” is a motto the tribe swears by, and to continue to uphold it, Poppy and Branch embark on a mission to rescue their friends. But this is not all. A Cinderella-inspired subplot involves the Trolls playing Fairy Godmother to Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), a kitchen-maid who is in love with Gristle. Scripted by the team of Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, who also gave us Kung Fu Panda and its sequels, Trolls comes up short, in that it does not offer much complexity for a subject as convoluted as happiness. Poppy and Branch engage in admirable banter, but they remain, at best, a rough draft of Joy and Sadness, respectively, from Inside Out (2015). Replete with gags, this film will, no doubt, appeal to younger audiences. It can be a joyous ride for adults, too, if they have not been gripped by an existential dread.
The music, produced by Justin Timberlake, is lively and foot-tapping. For me, the one song that stands out in particular is True Colours. The Trolls are polychromatic, but in the event of profound devastation, they change the colour of their skin to grey, and hair to black — their version of having the “blues”. The song revels in the idea that our true colours shine when we are happy; our best self is the only true self. Compared to the emotional range explored in Inside Out, this idea pales if we think of how childhood memories touched by Sadness help Riley grow as a person. In Trolls, our eponymous characters remain one-dimensional, the experience of 3-D notwithstanding.
The writer is programmer, Lightcube Film Society...