It doesn’t require much to see how endearing the Trolls film franchise is. For one thing, its optimism and positive energy, along with covers of chart-topping hits from different eras, is hard to resist. And while the individual stories from those films are derivative, they are sweet and kind-hearted animated musicals stitched and hot-glued together with whatever you can find at a craft store and then covered in glitter. And DreamWorks has delivered two of those toe-topping and headbangers, which will draw kids to the music of a bygone era while making adults wonder how any of this works and why it makes them smile. So, director Walt Dohrn replicates that magic while unpackaging the family drama that reveals why Branch is such a cheerful nihilist.
The film’s opening takes us back to the music generation of Boy Bands, where the title of the hit songs they developed revolved around girl, baby, or some combination of the two. BroZone is headlining its tour, and they are about to go on stage for the first time. Their fearless and ambitious leader, John Dory (Eric Andre), wants to achieve the Perfect Family Harmony with his brothers and bandmates. There’s the fun guy Clay (Kid Cudi), sensitive Floyd (Troye Sivan), the cut Spruce (Daveed Diggs), and Branch (Justin Timberlake). It’s a powerful harmony that could break diamonds but can only be achieved when everyone is in sync. However, the rest of BroZone aren’t convinced they could reach such a pitch-perfect melody. All of the bickering and in-fighting is making the young baby Branch so nervous it feels like he is going to barf, pass out, and pee in himself all at once. Luckily, Floyd reminds him to go out there and have fun. While that is the confidence boost the little troll needs, John Dory puts his ambitions for success ahead of why the brothers perform together. As such, Branch’s older brothers stumble all over the place and wrap themselves up in front of all their fans.
John Dory blames his brothers for the debacle. And they blame him for not truly understanding who they are. Eventually, like almost all boy bands, they break up and go their separate ways. And while we know what happens to Branch when he gets older, he slowly becomes less cynical and happier thanks to Poppy (Anna Kendrick). And after two adventures, they are now officially a couple. But Branch’s past comes back to haunt him when Poppy discovers that her boyfriend was a part of BroZone. She considers herself a BroZone superfan and can’t believe Branch never told her about being a part of it. So, she encourages him to open up about his family and wants him to reconnect with them. Though he refuses, his attitude changes when John Dory comes back. He tells Branch that Floyd is troll-napped by Velvet and Veneer (voiced by Amy Schumer and Andrew Rannells), a diva duo who suck away the talent essence of the imprisoned troll to boost their lack of talent. Trapped inside a diamond, the only way that Floyd can break free is if his brothers can achieve the perfect family harmony. But troll-napping Floyd is only part of Velvet and Veneer’s diabolical plan. Their actual plan is to kidnap all five members of the BroZone so that they can achieve fame and fortune.
Trolls Band Together is simple enough to understand and requires zero knowledge of the previous films. It’s easy to understand who these characters are through their personalities, general demeanor, and the importance of each role through how much screen time they get. So jumping straight into a third film without watching the others is perfectly fine, just as long as sitting through the boy band jokes, cheesy one-liners, cliches, and corny aphorisms. At one point, Elizabeth Tippet’s script includes a gag about BroZone’s lack of harmony. “We’re out of sync. We’ve gone from boys to men, and now there’s only one direction for us to go to the backstreets.” There are bits and pieces of the dialogue geared towards a specific demographic. And parents who lived through all of those boy band perms and frosted tips – yes, there’s a joke about that, too – will immediately recognize and laugh at the references. The younger audience who aren’t old enough to know about it will fall in love with this world made of everything you can find at a craft store and how it expands to a place populated by stringy plastic characters that can stretch and bend in weird ways.
A few side quests feature King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) to remind us that the Bregens are a part of the arts and crafts world. Though their roles give us a break from Branch and Poppy’s family drama – the latter is a long-lost sister story – predictably, their subplot converges with the main story.
Tippet’s script is fully aware of the world, its makeup, and who populates it. As such, it doesn’t need to take itself too seriously. It has fun with its animation, going from the velvety soft skin and magically combed-up hair trolls on a quest to rescue their family to a musical number choreographed by colorful blinking lite-brites. And the rest of the production design shows how far DreamWorks has come in expanding the world and giving each setting its own crafty personality. The entire film feels like a giant road trip as Poppy and Branch visit paradise, where pools of water are actually cool-blue beads and mini golf courses with an endless supply of fries, hotdogs, and other condiments. Even the newer characters have that DIY feel to them. The wedding itself feels like family and friends literally sewed a celebration of love together with yarn and hot glue. Even the expansion of the world adds a layer to Trolls because of the new materials introduced. For instance, Velvet and Veneer’s overworked and underappreciated assistant, Crimp (Zosia Mamet), is made up of crumpled pieces of paper with a pair of googly eyeballs.
There’s even a point where the Trolls board a plastic armadillo and use a Hustle button to get to their next destination quickly. It’s a trippy hand-drawn animated hyperspace sequence is appropriately to Van McCoy’s The Hustle. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself swaying your head side-to-side when that tune plays.
Of course, music is such a huge draw for these films. There are medleys of undeniably recognizable chart-topping hits like Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” to Lizzo’s “Feeling Good as Hell.” And, since this is a boy band-centric film starring Justin Timberlake, there will be a lot of N’Sync covers from “All I Ever Wanted” and maybe even a few rival ones like Backstreet Boys’s “Everybody [Backstreets Back].” Even Weezer’s “Island in the Sun” provides a perfectly laid-back feel to the sun-soaked paradise where Spruce runs a beach shack with his puppet wife and their puppet kids. And if it doesn’t make sense, don’t worry about it because the film had a tongue-in-cheek way of addressing that. And the epic concert third act is less Mad Max: Fury Road and more amusement park roller coaster full of loops, twists, and turns.
“Trolls Band Together” continues to be that feel-good animated musical jam session stitched together with an outstanding arts and crafts production design. The world is tangible, the characters are endearing, and the music is so much fun to listen to – even if they are merely a medley of covers. Above all, the trilogy capper is pure escapism that takes us away from what makes us feel empty and fills it with the joys of DIY projects and guilty pleasure music.
Trolls Band Together is in theaters November 17, 2023.