If “Barbie” didn’t satiate your jonesing for movies about dolls, 2023 offers you the DreamWorks animated feature “Trolls Band Together,” which features the Danish dolls created (like Barbie) in the 1950s.
I should point out that this movie’s release isn’t due to “Barbie”'s success: The Trolls were actually on the big screen first. They appeared in “Trolls” (2016), which introduced the world to Trolls Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake), and to the Bergens Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) and King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
The film scored an Oscar nomination for its undeniably catchy Timberlake song, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” Then Poppy and her crew returned in the 2020 sequel, “Trolls World Tour,” which streamed online during the pandemic.
“Trolls Band Together” brings the singing, dancing characters back to theaters, dragging a big chunk of ′90s nostalgia with them: Timberlake’s old group *NSYNC reunites on the soundtrack for a song performed in the movie by Branch and the rest of the group’s Troll alter-egos.
But long before we get to that moment, the film opens with a flashback to Branch’s first band, BroZone, a group made up of a very young Branch and his older brothers Floyd (Troye Sivan), Clay (Kid Cudi), Spruce (Daveed Diggs), and John Dory (Eric André).
John Dory, the leader, is obsessed with what he calls “the perfect family harmony,” that is, a sound so clear and powerful it can shatter diamonds.
After a disastrous concert appearance where the harmonies were far from perfect, the band split up, leaving baby Branch to live with his grandmother. Fast-forward 20 years and Branch’s happy life is disrupted by John Dory, whom he hasn’t seen since the breakup. Floyd is in trouble, and saving him involves getting the band back together.
Turns out Floyd is being held hostage by Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells), a sister-and-brother singing team with absolutely no talent. Their meteoric rise follows their discovery that they can douse themselves with a Troll’s talent and use it to sing like pros. Floyd gets sick every time they steal his powers, but only Veneer expresses any guilt.
The evil plan involves snatching all the talent from BroZone when they attempt to rescue their brother, even if it kills the boy band. I suppose Velvet and Veneer have never heard of alternative methods like lip-synching, AutoTune, or Milli Vanilli. “We could always try practicing,” Veneer suggests, a common sense strategy vetoed by his sister.
There are also subplots about Poppy finding a long-lost, equally obnoxious sister named Viva (Camila Cabello), and the honeymoon of newlyweds Bridget and King Gristle, who are a tad too horny for a PG-rated movie. (Bridget’s spicy line implying light bondage will go over the kids’ heads. Maybe.)
Thanks to the blinding candy-colored images that permeate every frame, younger kids will be drawn to “Trolls Band Together” like moths to a flame. The screen is always filled with Trolls running around or performing elaborate song and dance numbers; it can be headache-inducing.
But, as with other familiar elements of the Trolls Universe, directors Walt Dohrn and Tim Heitz use pastiches of songs both past and present to find common ground for both kids and parents. That *NSYNC reunion damn sure isn’t intended for 5-year olds.
Screenwriter Elizabeth Tippet even makes a play for the grandparents by giving Poppy and Branch a caterpillar car equipped with a “Hustle button” that, when pressed, results in a dance number set to Van McCoy’s 1975 disco classic, “The Hustle.” The car is driven by Tiny Diamond (Kenan Thompson, hilarious here), a silver glitter-covered Troll who would look right at home at Studio 54.
Though “Trolls Band Together” mercilessly beats its familiar, tired message about the importance of family into the ground, it’s still surprisingly watchable with plenty of voice and singing talent.
And while I’m so old I had to look up the correct spelling of *NSYNC, I thought their reunion song “Better Place” wasn’t bad. It made my fellow moviegoers in the theater very happy, and when it comes to theater experiences, I want it that way. Oops, wrong boy band.
TROLLS BAND TOGETHER
Directed by Walt Dohrn and Tim Heitz. Written by Elizabeth Tippet. Starring Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kenan Thompson, Troye Sivan, Kid Cudi, Daveed Diggs, Eric André, Camila Cabello. At AMC Boston Common, suburbs. 92 minutes. PG (get a room, Bridget and King Gristle!)
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.