“Trolls World Tour” is a sequel to “Trolls.” That 2016 animated feature grossed nearly $350 million in worldwide box office, so a sequel was to be expected. What wasn’t to be expected was that its release would coincide with a worldwide pandemic.
That coincidence means two things: A lot more parents, eager to keep housebound children entertained, are likely to be interested in the movie; and they have at-home access to it. Rather than delaying the movie’s theatrical run, its distributor, Universal, is making it directly available for streaming. It’s the first high-profile Hollywood release to do so. This is a big deal. As John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theater Owners, told The Hollywood Reporter last month, “Exhibitors will not forget this.”
Maybe they will, maybe they won’t — but will viewers forget “TWT”? Put another way, is it worth putting $19.99 on your credit card to watch via Amazon Prime or some other platform? It depends on how much you (or your kids) liked “Trolls” — and how desperate you are.
Trolls are those little ugly-cute dolls with seriously big ears, super-snub noses, and electro-shock bad hair. What trolls care about, as one of them says in “TWT,” is “singing, dancing, and hugging.” Well, all except one. Barb, the queen of hard rock (exuberantly voiced by Rachel Bloom), wants to make hard rock the only form of troll music.
You see, it turns out that the trolls in the earlier movie are one of six kinds of troll. Poppy and Branch (Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake), back from “Trolls,” are pop trolls. There are also country trolls, classical trolls, techno trolls, and funk trolls.
I know how weird that must sound. But “TWT” is a very weird movie, and it looks a whole lot weirder than it sounds. But we’ll get to that.
Anyway, Poppy and Branch set off in a hot-air balloon to try to make peace with Barb. Joining them is Biggie (James Corden), another “Trolls” returnee. He’s the comic-relief equivalent to Olaf, in the “Frozen” movies, only cuddlier and without a carrot for a nose. Biggie tends to get the best lines. “How are we going to hug our way out of this one?” he asks when they get into a particularly tight spot.
Along the way we encounter Delta Dawn, the queen of country (Kelly Clarkson), the king and queen of funk (George Clinton and Mary J. Blige), and a helpful cowboy-like troll, Hickory (Sam Rockwell).
The best thing about “TWT” is the inventiveness of some of the vocal casting. Rockwell is top notch, in a Sam Elliott sort of way, and what could be better than making P-Funk master Clinton monarch of funk? Talk about one kingdom under a groove. Well, maybe casting Ozzy Osbourne as Barb’s quite-dissipated dad is better.
Various songs are performed, most of them covers on the order of “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun." A few are originals, like Focus’s “Hocus Pocus” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” a song almost as perky as Kendrick’s performance, only a lot more palatable.
But then you get a new song like “Born to Die,” sung by Delta Dawn. The problem isn’t that it’s a bad song (which it is), it’s that it’s so ... morbid. This is a movie for little kids? Clearly, it’s meant to be: from the consciously juvenile humor and exaggerated emotions to the frantic visuals and garish color scheme (“TWT” looks like an explosion in a very sugary candy store).
Yet just as a song about death is not exactly kid-friendly neither is the hyper-kinetic animation. The problem isn’t rapidity, per se, so much as the uses to which it’s put: sudden transformations and plunges and general hyper-ness. A tear turning into a tiny animate creature is impressively imaginative — but for a little one, a bit overwhelming. Fatiguing for grown-ups, “TWT” may well scare, or at least unsettle, kids under 6. And kids much over 6 are likely to tire of the unrelenting cutesiness.
Actually, all the visual overload means that seeing “TWT” at home might be preferable to seeing it on a big screen. Small may or may not be beautiful, but in this case it’s definitely easier to take.
TROLLS WORLD TOUR
Directed by Walt Dohrn and David P. Smith. Written by Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Elizabeth Tippet. Starring the voices of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, James Corden. Available for streaming on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and other platforms. 90 minutes. PG (some mild rude humor; children under 8 may find some of the visuals overpowering).
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.