If you’re quarantined with kids — or if you’re a kid at heart who enjoys Dreamworks animation movies — Trolls: World Tour (2020, Prime Video, Vudu, Fandango) is a sweet, singalong distraction with several positive messages. You don’t need to have seen the first Trolls movie to enjoy this one, but if you have seen it you’ll be pleasantly reunited with some favorite characters.
The premise of Trolls: World Tour is not mind-bogglingly complicated; this is a kids’ movie, after all. Once upon a time, there were six musical strings: Techno, Funk, Classical, Country, Rock, and Pop. Because the original Trolls started fighting over which musical style was best, they split into factions and took their strings with them. And now, for reasons not fully explained, the Rock Trolls want to take over the other factions and turn them all into rock zombies. Our pink heroine Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick) of the Pop Trolls mistakes Rock Queen Barb’s (Rachel Bloom) warning of impending colonization as an invitation and sets out to make a new BFF. It’s only when Poppy and her sidekick/boyfriend Branch (Justin Timberlake) discover the devastated land of the Classical Trolls does she realize Barb maybe doesn’t have good intentions. Poppy’s mission now flips from wanting to create Troll unity to stopping Barb before she destroys all the Trolls.
There are two other subplots, as well. In the first, the four-legged, long-necked Cooper (Ron Funches) sets off to find more Trolls like himself (spoiler alert: he finds them, and it’s super awesome); and Barb, upon hearing that Poppy is out to stop her, sends four sets of bounty hunters after her pop counterpart, including Smooth Jazz (Jamie Dornan), Reggaeton (J Balvin, Berenice Amador, and Jamila Hache), K-Pop (actual K-Pop group Red Velvet), and Yodeling Trolls (spoilers here).
For the first few minutes, Trolls: World Tour feels like your run-of-the-mill saccharine kids’ movie about getting along, tolerance, and finding courage. But it very quickly becomes a pretty woke message about celebrating differences and being a good listener.
As a leader, Poppy is already strong-willed and courageous. She doesn’t need to find those qualities within herself this time. Instead, her journey in Trolls: World Tour becomes about listening to those who want to help you. Everyone who loves Poppy offers her good advice, and her response is to consistently shut them out when she doesn’t like what they have to say. She bull-headedly charges ahead with her own plans no matter how that might affect the people with her. This fact is pointed out to her multiple times by multiple friends until Poppy finally gets it.
Part of becoming a good listener is that Poppy learns how to value all emotions. In an era where we’re bombarded with empty aphorisms like “Good Vibes Only,” the film works hard to tell us that it’s OK to feel things other than happiness and joy; it’s OK to be sad, it’s OK to be scared. And this is a wonderful takeaway for all of us right now, especially children. Feelings aren’t “good” or “bad,” they just are, sometimes hugs don’t fix everything, and that’s fine. Sad songs can help you express yourself. Music doesn’t always have to lift your spirits; sometimes misery just wants company.
In addition to validating emotions other than hyper-manic pop-music energy, Trolls: World Tour offers a solid lesson in embracing difference. This isn’t your by-the-numbers 1990s P.C. “tolerance,” either. This is a genuinely hard look at what happens when we’re blind to our own privilege. The king and queen of the Funk Trolls (George Clinton and Mary J. Blige) open Poppy’s eyes with a sort of “people’s history” of the six Troll strings. It seems that the story Poppy was told — and which we, the audience learned — was a privileged “pop washed” version. “Scrapbooks are cut-out and pasted by the winners,” they tell her, before opening her eyes to the real story. The Pop Trolls, it seems, were the original colonizers of Troll music, attempting to appropriate and assimilate all other forms of music into pop.
And here’s the movie’s other big message: differences count. You can’t just ignore what makes everyone else unique by saying that we’re all the same because we’re not. As the Funk Queen Essence points out, it’s “our lives, experiences, and culture” that each of us who we are. Poppy’s mind is blown when she realizes that while her intentions were good, she was nevertheless on the same path of forced conformity as her rival Barb. “If we all look the same and sound the same, how will anyone know we’re cool?”
Trolls: World Tour doesn’t just pay lip service to diversity and inclusiveness. There is no white-washing of the voice actors. From the actual K-Pop group Red Velvet voicing the K-Pop Troll bounty hunters to Keenan Thompson playing the Tiny Diamond baby to Kunal Nayyar’s Guy Diamond, the cast includes more than just token minorities. This lends a certain authenticity to the movie’s messages.
Overall, Trolls: World Tour is a fun, sweet, and surprisingly deep family movie. It offers both an escape from, and help with, the pandemic quarantine and all the feels that come with it.
Movie Review originally published by Meredith Morgenstern on Medium