Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Movie Review: Trolls (2016)



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Well, in-between our obsession with comic book heroes and bitching about mostly female casts in movies, we seem to have to tumbled all the way back into the 80’s. How else do you explain the number of doll/action figure movies we’ve gotten this year? What’s more, we seem to have latched onto the 80’s anything-counts-as-inspiration mindset without really taking the time and effort to properly incorporate them into something them young people today would like. Case in point, Jem And The Holograms, which was about as jarringly anachronistic as it gets without any bloody reason for it. Then we have today’s subject… and if the sight of twerking trolls from the advertising didn’t turn your stomach, then quite frankly, I need whatever industrial-strength medication you’re on because I could certainly use it. So, yeah, I’m not expecting anything good from this. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Please prove me wrong. This is Trolls.


The plot: The Trolls, a happy-go-lucky society of dancing and singing creatures, are suddenly under attack by the giant Bergens, who plan to eat them in order to feel happiness. When several of the Trolls are snatched up by the Bergen Chef (Christine Baranski), Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and the disgruntled and isolated Branch (Justin Timberlake) have to work together in order to rescue them and, possibly, find a way to stop the Bergen tradition of Trollstice.

The cast here is really well chosen, save for one seriously bass-akwards decision. Why have the most decorated singer in your movie jukebox musical be the one whose main character trait is that he doesn’t sing?! Well, at least for the bulk of the film, but my word, this is not starting out well. Outside of JT, we have Kendrick who fits in perfectly within both her character and the songs she’s given along with James Corden, Jeffrey Tambor, Gwen Stefani… who, from what I recall, doesn’t have any lines, Quvenzhan√© Wallis, Russell Brand among many others to fill out the Trolls, all of whom do fairly well in their roles. The Bergens are equally star-studded, featuring John Cleese, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Zooey Deschanel. Not entirely sure how likely it is you’ll individually recognize most of them, but since nothing here is immediately painful to the ears, it gets the general clearance.

One of the Trolls, played by one of the numbnuts from The Big Bang Theory, has a running gag about literally shitting out sparkles. That about sums up the visual aesthetic of the film as it is overflowing with colour. It’s constantly bright and pastel, making the scenery of the Bergen village look that much better by comparison, and I don’t really have any other descriptor for it besides sickeningly sugary. But I’m willing to chalk that up to just my own sensibilities because, despite its post-Rainbow Challenge colour palette, it’s actually well-detailed along those lines. Everything that isn’t the Bergen village has this felt-like texture to it, kind of like the emotions in Inside Out only applied to everything around them. It actually makes the iconic hairstyles of the Trolls themselves feel a lot more normalized when you take into account just how much fluffiness is going on around them. That is, when they aren’t warding the creatures that dwell between their village and the Bergens, in easily the funniest example of the food chain that I’ve seen since the early days of The Simpsons. So, yeah, it may turn my stomach a little but, objectively, the visuals and animation are actually really well-done.

Since this is a musical, and it’s been way too long since I last commented on a movie’s soundtrack, let’s get into the song choices here… and wow, these are actually really good. They may not be quite up to par with Point Grey’s consistent levels of genius, but not only are they well-performed by the cast but also written rather deftly into the overall story. Starting out with a Pitch Perfect-tier mashup, which Kendrick pulls off as well as her experience would have us expect, it follows that same path of not going for the obvious contemporary song picks. When Deschanel’s scullery maid Bridget sings Hello, it’s the Lionel Richie one not Adele and the fact that she not only absolutely nails that song but manages to make it into a returning gag that is actually pretty damn funny is nothing short of amazing. I don’t care how nostalgia has rendered it, that song is terrible but made into something genuinely good here. Add to that a properly smart-arse iteration of The Sound Of Silence, an incredibly cheesy but still resonant rendition of True Colors, and of course the too-funky-for-its-own-good Can’t Stop The Feeling and the soundtrack here is solid. And yet, it’s not even the fun-loving Trolls that end up contributing the best music moments; instead, it’s the continuously depressed Bergens. Aside from the aforementioned salvaging of Hello, and easily the most perfect use of Gorillaz’ Clint Eastwood, that insanely catchy chant that introduces them is somehow even more of an earworm than Can’t Stop The Feeling. It’s like Strange Magic all over again, except it doesn’t feel like this film is forcing anything when it comes to its sound.

Time to talk about the actual meat and potatoes of the story, which means addressing the elephant in the room. We have a film called Trolls, about literal trolls, who are fighting against creatures that only feel good when they are abusing others. Anyone who has spent any amount of time on the Internet will realize that this is another bass-ackwards touch that honestly doesn’t make sense on the surface. And speaking of surface, for a film all about feeling happy, it is actually rather deceptive on how it handles that core emotion. It may be somewhat simplified, especially when it flat-out recreates Cinderella as part of Bridget’s character arc, but what it lacks in nuance, it more than makes up for in poignancy. I mean, we have a character here who is more than willing to sacrifice its life for its friends, all because those same friends showed it what true happiness feels like and, now that the character has experienced it, it can die fulfilled. Holy. Shitballs. I don’t even feel right saying this but, seriously, this film has no right being this emotional. Hell, beyond the individual moments, this whole film can basically be boiled down to “don’t worry, just dance and be happy” and considering the music here is genuinely good, I can’t really argue with that. Hell, there’s even a slight bit of subtext involving the idea of people literally eating themselves happy which, considering how badly eating disorders have been misrepresented in the media since… well, ever, I’m counting that as another point in the film’s favour.

All in all, for a film that offered literally nothing of merit in its lead-up to release, this is an astoundingly decent watch. The acting is solid, the singing is just as good which delivers the optimal use of both original and licensed songs, the design aesthetic may be diabetic-inducing but at least it’s well constructed and the writing, while simple in terms of its breadth of themes, certainly knows how to deliver on those themes in ways I never could have expected. It’s better than Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, as the lack of time travel plotline makes this far easier to keep up with and enjoy what it has to offer. However, in comparison to another all-out assault to the visual sensors, it’s not quite as consistent as One Piece Film: Gold.

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