Bummed-out kids acutely feel the pain of quarantine, so kudos to DreamWorks Animation for letting the fun-and-song-filled fluffball known as Trolls World Tour become the first major studio release intended for theaters to go directly to Video on Demand. The pre-puberty crowd will gravitate to this over-caffeinated sequel to 2016’s glitter-pop phenom Trolls. OK, it’s not nearly as good a time, feeling more dutiful than dazzling. Still, grownups won’t need to resort to controlled substances to share the experience without climbing walls, though the nonstop, piñata-like explosions of noise and color are mindful of an acid trip. Deep thanks to co-directors Walt Dohrn and David P. Smith for drowning out the more indigestible dialogue in the script by Jonathan Abel and Glenn Berger.
Those big-haired pixies Poppy and Branch (voiced by Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake) are back in action. Kendrick again plays perky with a vengeance, while Timberlake finds the downer side in the bunker-hermit Branch. Think of Anne Hathaway and James Franco when they hosted the Oscars. JT cheered up long enough in the first Trolls to sing the pop anthem “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” There are lots of new songs in Trolls World Tour, none as ear-candyish as that one, but even more relentless. See, the trolls are at war. Relax, there’s no violence to threaten the PG rating. The war is over music.
Let me offer a skeleton key to the plot complexities of Trolls World Tour: It’s turns out that the trolls are divided into six different tribes scattered over six different territories, marked by six magical strings (like in a guitar) representing each tribe’s preference in music, be it funk, country, techno, classical, pop, or rock. Poppy and Branch advocate for bringing the six strings together, as does their main man, Biggie (James Corden). Sam Rockwell also joins the ride as Hickory, a centaur from the Deep South. The fiercest holdout is mohawked Queen Barb, voiced by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend diva supreme Rachel Bloom. For Barb and her daddy, King Thrash (Ozzy Osbourne), it’s hard rock or nothing. And Barb’s invitation to other trolls to join her on a world tour for “One Nation Under Rock” is a trap, a plan to destroy all other kinds of music and obliterate the competition.
Fat chance. Before the final singalong, which may cause sugar shock in cynics, funk king Quincy (George Clinton) offers a welcome word for diversity: “Denying our differences,” he says, “is denying the truth of who we are.” Amen to that, though Poppy’s painful take on “Gangnam Style” leaves room for doubt. It’s hard to imagine a juvenile audience working up much steam about pop’s appropriation of musical genres, but there’s no denying the fine vocal contributions from the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige, Anderson Paak, and Gustavo Dudamel. Trolls World Tour hits the home market at exactly the right time, celebrating music as a joyful, community experience that excludes no one. Nothing wrong with a movie, even this kiddie piffle, that steps up and does that.