Monday, March 4, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Trolls Band Together’ is Harmless

Director: Walt Dohrn
Writers Elizabeth Tippet
Stars: Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, Eric André

Synopsis: Poppy discovers that Branch was once part of the boy band ‘BroZone’ with his brothers, Floyd, John Dory, Spruce, and Clay. When Floyd is kidnapped, Branch and Poppy embark on a journey to reunite his two other brothers and rescue Floyd.

Regarding commercial entertainment, the Trolls franchise seems to be the least offensive piece of IP that Universal loves to milk, even if its third installment, Trolls Band Together, gets unsurprisingly egregious at times. Still, it’s a large step above the first sequel, Trolls World Tour, which cranked the commercial references to the extreme and forgot to tell a decent story despite fun animation. 

Trolls Band Together is more restrained in its commercial references, but they’re the film’s weakest parts when they come and go. Direct lines like “We’re not in sync. We’ve gone from boys to men, and now there’s only one direction for us to go: the backstreets” can be funny for those who equate cinema to theme park rides and do the Rick Dalton pointing meme when they catch something they understand from another piece of media that others don’t, but it’s not particularly inspiring in the context of the movie. 

Of course, the film’s story is plucked out of Justin Timberlake’s boy band days and sees him reunite with members of *NSYNC to write an original song for the first time in over twenty years. Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, and Chris Kirkpatrick also appear in the movie as Trolls to sing the song, which is fine and all, but you can tell how director Walt Dohrn seems more interested in the third film as a “brand extension” piece of content whose commercial appeal is stronger than its story when the main plot is far more interesting than any of the commercial stuff shoved in front of our eyes (in 3D). 

The gist of the plot is simple but done effectively well: Branch (Justin Timberlake) reunites with his brother John Dory (Eric André) after he learns that their brother Floyd (Troye Sivan) was captured by hack singers Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells), who steal the magic of the Trolls to improve their singing voices vastly. Floyd is trapped in a diamond prison and can only be freed by the “Perfect Family Harmony,” which was attempted once by Branch and his brothers when they were in the boy band BroZone but failed miserably. However, now that Floyd is in danger, Branch, Poppy (Anna Kendrick), John Dory, and Tiny Diamond (Kenan Thompson) look for Spruce (Daveed Diggs) and Clay (Kid Cudi) to bring the band back together and finally attempt the Perfect Family Harmony one more time. 

In that adventure, Poppy also meets her long-lost sister, Viva (Camilla Cabello), who has a vendetta against Bergens and kidnaps King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and his wife Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) while are on their honeymoon. Dohrn tries to do too much in such a tight runtime (92 minutes) that the Viva subplot seems more like an afterthought instead of enhancing the main plot. It’s almost as if screenwriter Elizabeth Tippet thought the story focused too much on Branch’s past that the film also needed to introduce a newer batch of Trolls to the mix. As a result, the movie doesn’t spend enough time with Viva for the audience to care much about their relationship, while Branch’s story gets the flashback cold open and the spotlight from beginning to end. 

Arguably, Branch’s story is the film’s most exciting part because it’s the most developed aspect of the movie. Timberlake brings lots of heart to his portrayal of the character, just as he did in the past two movies, and the addition of Eric André, Daveed Diggs, Kid Cudi, and Troye Sivan to the film is also terrific. Branch has an incredibly believable chemistry with each member of BroZone that we ultimately feel for the characters as they travel to save Floyd. There’s an emotional center that none of the Trolls movies have achieved until now that made this movie feel more human and alive as opposed to purely commercial fodder for Trolls to sing known pop songs. 

It’s also a visually rich movie, with stunning animation and fast-paced action sequences. One scene, in particular, sees the character move from 3D animation to 2D as they travel down the Hustle Dimension, where Joseph Shirley’s Hustle theme starts playing and puts the audience in an increasingly trippy mood. It’s incredibly jubilant and the franchise’s most artistically stirring scene yet. It is also integral to its climax, which was a welcomed surprise. However, it’s not a movie worth the extra money for the 3D experience. At its best, a few elements pop out of the screen, but at its worst, the image is consistently flat, with desaturated colors because of the murky glasses you put in front of your eyes. 

Its villains could’ve been more fleshed-out, but they’re more comically entertaining than the previous antagonists in Trolls World Tour. Despite uninspired vocal turns from Rannells and Schumer, the Milli Vanilli-inspired framing device saves their arc, and there are legitimate emotional stakes at play regarding Floyd’s life as Velvet and Veneer continue to use his powers to feed their voices. With an impossible task at play, the ending could be seen a mile away, but its emotional impact is intensely felt, ultimately making the final moments of the picture like a satisfying coda for the Trolls franchise. We’re likely to get a fourth film because they have always been incredibly successful titles for DreamWorks, but I wouldn’t be mad if the studio decides to leave it as is. Sometimes, it’s best to end things while you’re on top and not before you start experiencing diminishing returns.

Grade: B

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