They’re small, squat and fuzzy, with ridiculous hair and a love of anonymous mischief-making … but enough about folks who haunt comments sections and blow up Twitter feeds. This DreamWorks animation joint revolves around a different type of troll, specifically those vintage miniature dolls blessed with drunken-pug faces and gravity-defying ‘dos. Having licensed the IP for the purposes of big-screen toysploitation, the company has come up with a story in which our furry little friends are pursued by giants known as Bergens; if these miserable, ogre-like creatures consume a troll on a holiday known as “Trollstice,” they allegedly experience a momentary sense of happiness. One massive underground escape later, the diminutive would-be desserts flee to the forest to live in peace, harmony and endless pop song singalongs. Years later, their trolltopia is threatened when an exiled Bergen chef (Christine Baranski) discovers their whereabouts and hopes to revive the tradition. Only the insanely optimistic Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and her pessimistic friend Branch (Justin Timberlake) can rescue their troll-napped friends. Yadda yadda yadda.
Forget the story, which borrows from virtually every other feature-length cartoon you’ve seen over the last decade, as well as Cinderella, Cyrano de Bergerac and the Campbellian hero’s journey template. This is really just an excuse to for celebrities to nab plum voiceover paydays – an A-list roll call includes Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, James Corden and Jeffrey Tambor – for directors/Shrek franchise veterans Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn to roll out platitudes about finding your bliss, for corporate music-licensing liasons to justify their jobs (the soundtrack is a karaoke machine’s wet dream) and for folks to indulge in the sort of aggressively positive vibe that makes The Lego Movie feel damned near postapocalyptic. One character farts glitter and another poops cupcakes. You could not ask for better in-movie metaphors.
Where Trolls does rise above your run-of-the-mill children’s entertainment is its animation, which veers between artisanally crude felt-cut-out interludes and computer-rendered scenes emphasizing every strand of the trolls’ vertical, rainbow-ready hair. Rarely has so much care been made to show so much texture in an animated film, from the characters’ downy skin to the background flora that seems wonderfully tactile and almost hand-made. There’s a distinct arts-and-craft look to everything. You wonder if the project was given a grant by Etsy. And to say it’s colorful is an understatement; the variety of retina-searing primary and pastel hues hurled at your eyeballs at any and every given moment falls somewhere between a Skittles factory’s inventory and a psychedelic drug trip. (This is truly a kids’ movie designed for toddlers and your uncle that did too much Orange Sunshine that one time and never fully recovered.)
If you’ve ever been curious as to how far a studio toon could push the doors of perception in terms of a visual palette, or simply wondered what a Kendrick/Timberlake duet of “True Colors” would sound like, Trolls will answer these questions in between sandblasting you with manufactured joy. Otherwise, this is one of those time-killers that’s impossibly exuberant, insanely likable and instantly forgettable.