Hey, remember how everyone was begging for a movie based on those toy trolls from the ’90s? Yeah, me neither. Even in this age of nostalgia, those dumb dolls with the big hair haven’t made a comeback. Nevertheless, someone in the bowels of Fox decided that we all actually wanted a troll doll movie. In fact, we wanted it so badly that only a $120 million CGI musical extravaganza could possibly satiate our thirst for troll entertainment.
Here’s the story, such as it is: In a far-off fairy tale land, there are these magical little trolls with big hair that contain their powers. They’re the sweetest and purest damn creatures that you’ll ever lay eyes on and are soooooooo cute. Unfortunately, there’s also a gruesome kingdom of ogres who feast on trolls as their only form of happiness. Years ago, the trolls escaped the ogres by planting fake wooden troll dolls that look awfully familiar. Now the trolls live in an idyllic space of happiness with group hugs every few hours, constant outpourings of song, and even hippie-dippy philosophy courtesy of a Russell Brand troll.
Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) leads them all in a life of happiness, except for one bitter troll who refuses to sing (Justin Timberlake… hmmm, I wonder if he’ll be won over and sing?) and is convinced that the ogres will return one day. You know what? He’s right. It happens. Trolls are kidnapped to be eaten and only Kendrick and Timberlake can save them. To do so, they’ll need to play matchmaker between a childish King Ogre (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and a ‘Cinderella’-style scullery maid ogre (Zooey Deschanel). Sure, why not?
This is a pretty simple family CGI feature that sticks rigidly to the increasingly predictable formula of these movies. You want some ‘Shrek’-style satirical jabs at fairy tales? You got lots of them. I’ll bet you were hoping for celebrity voices? Get ready for all the stars the studio could afford. How about some gentle action that’s never too scary or exciting? Here it comes! Maybe a collection of jukebox pop songs to hum all the way home? Plenty. A few jokes that will fly over kids’ heads and keep parents awake? Oh yeah, they’re here. How about an impossibly happy ending with no real danger? It’s built right in!
As much as all those conventions work like comfort food, they’re endlessly recycled in these sorts of CGI family blockbusters. The fact that this particular collection of those clichés is based on a 1990s toy fad that you kind of remember doesn’t make it any better.
There are no surprises whatsoever in ‘Trolls’. It feels like a paint-by-numbers Troll coloring book brought to life. However, the eye candy is pretty, the performances are amusing, and just enough jokes hit for this to not feel like a waste of time. It’s fine. In fact, ‘Trolls’ could very well be the dictionary definition of a mediocre CGI family feature, provided that dictionaries started using feature length movies as definitions.
In other words, it could be worse. There have been weaker entries in the endless CGI family film cycle already this year and there will be many more to come in the foreseeable future. If you like using these sorts movies as an expensive babysitter with popcorn, the good news is that you likely won’t hate ‘Trolls’ as much as you’d expect. The bad news is that your memory likely won’t be able to distinguish what happened in this movie and what happened in the last ‘Shrek’ sequel within 15 minutes after leaving the theater. Don’t expect much and you’ll be fine. Fortunately, this is the ‘Trolls’ movie, so high expectations for anyone who graduated grade school are impossible.