Movie Beat: “Trolls” a sweet mess of a movie

by Jenniffer Wardell

Rated PG for some mild rude humor

Screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, story by Erica Rivinoja, based on the Good Luck Trolls created by Thomas Dam

Directed by Mike Mitchell and Walter Dohrn

Starring Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, John Cleese and more

Grade: One and a half stars

“Trolls” is what would happen if you put “Smurfs” and a troll doll in a blender, then threw in a heaping scoop of “Cinderella” for good measure.

Is that a good thing? No, not really, but there are worst crimes Hollywood has committed in the name of animated movies with obvious (but oddly outdated) marketing tie-ins. “Trolls” is far from a good movie, but it manages to be a better movie than its spiritual cousin, May’s “The Angry Birds Movie,” by being far sweeter and more well-meaning. Though they share the unfortunate overarching plot of one species wanting to eat another, “Trolls” has fewer adult-themed jokes, a more heartwarming message, and a good heart to go along with its completely nonsensical plot.

The plot starts with the Trolls, who have a sunshine-happy existence full of brightly colored musical numbers. This changes when the chronically depressed Bergens, a species who looks more like the trolls found in traditional fantasy stories, decide that eating Trolls is the only thing that makes them happy (why they don’t consider the excitement they feel upon being offered a Troll happiness is never explained). The Trolls, however, escape, leaving one Bergen to spend years hunting them down again so she can bring them back to the other Bergens and reclaim her rightful place of power and prestige.

At least, that’s the first five minutes of the movie. The bulk of the plot is a road trip/rescue mission between Anna Kendrick’s Poppy, a stereotypically cheerful character who always looks on the bright side of life, and Justin Timberlake’s Branch, who’s pretty grouchy and considers paranoia to be a sensible and intelligent way of life. If you’ve ever seen a movie with an even vaguely similar plot device, the results are about what you’d expect.

Though I love both Kendrick and Timberlake as actors, the roles really don’t allow either of their personalities to shine through much. The one element that does is their comedic delivery, which makes a few of the jokes land a little more effectively than they might have otherwise. One sequence, where Poppy uses the Trolls’ timed group hugs as a threat to get Branch to help her, actually manages to be kind of clever.

There are also a few genuinely sweet moments, both between Branch and Poppy and between Poppy and Bridget, a Bergen scullery maid who has a huge crush on the young Bergen king. Though the fact that she apparently started cleaning the castle at the age of 2 or three is a little disconcerting (either that, or she’s considerably older than her love interest), the character’s compassionate heart is clear and helps make her far more likeable than she might be otherwise.

The soundtrack is mostly entertaining, if you like bright, bubbly pop and covers of older pop hits. Some of those covers end up being surprisingly good, such as Anna Kendrick’s “Sounds of Silence,” while Zooey Deschanel’s cover of Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” just ended up weirding me out. (Not because of Deschanel’s voice, which is perfectly fine. I just felt it was an uncomfortable fit.)

In the end, it’s an eye-catching, forgettable muddle that will leave nothing more behind than a hummed tune and the vague desire to hug someone you love. Still, there are worse things a movie could leave behind.

© 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

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