You can watch 'Trolls World Tour' at home. Kids will like it. Adults almost will
True to its title, the sugary-sweet animated bauble "Trolls World Tour" consists of one lavish concert after another, performed and attended by cute multihued pixies with big hair, creamy voices and infernally catchy beats. Watching it is a bit like listening to a Top 40 station on full blast while snorting confetti and Pop Rocks, followed by a cotton-candy-and-Cheez-Whiz sundae. The full effect naturally demands a packed theater and maybe a few hallucinogens, but since that's out of the question (the theater, I mean, not the hallucinogens), this sequel to the 2016 DreamWorks Animation hit "Trolls" is being made available for home streaming Friday, like the determined, eager-to-please little confection it is.
I'm generally tasked with reviewing movies, not experiences. But since this is the first studio-produced feature of the novel coronavirus era to bypass its intended wide release and head straight to your living room, I'll make a wee exception. The truth is that "Trolls World Tour" doesn't really require the full effect and may actually be more enjoyable — more endurable — at medium volume. A TV screen and living-room acoustics serve to mitigate the sensory overload. The pause button is a blessed relief. And if you happen to be watching it in the company of a distracting and easily distracted small child, as I did, so much the better.
"I don't like the scary part!" my 3-year-old screening companion squealed as she dove under a blanket. And since she was referring to the appearance of Queen Barb (voiced by Rachel Bloom), the fearsome, punk-haired ruler of the hard-rock trolls, I certainly couldn't blame her. By the end, though — after some 90-odd minutes of bubbles, lollipops, pinky promises, characters with names like Mr. Dinkles, a climactic sing-along and a preordained happy ending — she had been more or less pummeled into submission: "I liked this movie!" she announced with a smile.
I almost did — sort of, in fits and starts. I almost liked the first one too, even if what I described back then as its "blinding rainbow hues, recycled disco tunes and aggressive, borderline-fascist good vibes" took some overcoming. "Trolls World Tour," bouncily directed by Walt Dohrn (and co-director David P. Smith) from a script credited to far too many people, offers more of the same, though to its credit, the recycled tunes this time go well beyond disco. Once more we are in the spirited company of Poppy (Anna Kendrick), the exhaustingly joyful queen of the pop trolls, and her more downbeat best friend, Branch (Justin Timberlake). Their mismatched temperaments give rise to a lot of bickering and mixed signals but never fear: Differences, after all, are what make harmony possible.
The rest of the movie builds on this theme. As we learn in a handy revisionist-history prologue, the pop trolls are not the only variant of their pint-size, music-loving species. According to ancient legend, there were once six troll kingdoms, governed by six magical strings that were yanked apart in the wake of internal strife, splintering the trolls into their own distinct musical factions. (How distinct? The voice cast this time around includes Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, Ozzy Osbourne, Anthony Ramos, Gustavo Dudamel and Anderson .Paak.)
And so we get to meet the classical trolls, who like to perform Beethoven's Fifth in charming pastel-powdered 18th-century wigs. The brightly glowing techno trolls dwell in an underwater grotto that offers just the right bioluminescent arena for their neon-hued raves. But now, like a veritable Daenerys Troll-garyen, Queen Barb and her goth-garbed groupies are on a megalomaniacal quest to restore unity and order. They plan to wipe out every troll village, steal the six strings and effectively wield One String to Rule Them All, establishing rock as the one and only genre.
But not if Poppy and Branch have anything to say or sing about it. "Trolls World Tour" is basically the family-friendly animated version of an argument you might have with someone — maybe a troll of the social-media variety — pitting your musical taste against theirs. Barb surveys Poppy's whimsical high spirits and rainbow-hued melodies with palpable disgust: "Pop music isn't even real music," she snarls. But Poppy, for all her live-and-let-live cheerfulness, has her blind spots too. At one point she and her friends roll through the country trolls' tumbleweed-strewn ghost town and, not sure why everyone looks and sounds so dang melancholy, launches into an ill-advised medley of "Who Let the Dogs Out," "Good Vibrations" and "Gangnam Style."
It's not entirely clear why that last number is performed by the pop trolls rather than the K-pop trolls who turn up, along with the reggae trolls and the yodeling trolls, in a brief scene devoted to trolldom's many musical minorities. And if you think I'm just being troll-itically correct, you haven't seen the movie: When Poppy makes the well-meaning but insensitive remark that all trolls are basically the same, it naturally falls to King Quincy (George Clinton), ruler of the sky-dwelling funk trolls, to set her straight: "Denying our differences," he says, "is denying the truth of who we are."
A lovely sentiment, though one that this bright, zippy charm offensive of a movie doesn't entirely live up to. Despite the range of musical genres represented and the obsessive attention to visual detail, there is a bland, wearying homogeneity to the way "Trolls World Tour" looks and sounds. Kendrick's and Timberlake's voices blend as nicely as before, and their emotional dynamic — Poppy's relentless, oblivious good cheer versus Branch's sadness and skepticism — may remind you a little of Pixar's "Inside Out," though no comparison could be less flattering to this movie. I admit to having a soft spot for any picture that resembles an explosion at the glitter factory. But it's still a factory.
'TROLLS WORLD TOUR'
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Rating: PG, for some mild rude humor
Playing: Available April 10 for streaming on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and other platforms