The Trolls franchise has had a somewhat varied journey in my collective memory as things began with hesitation at the concept alone though interest was piqued after Justin Timberlake released the ultimate feel-good summertime jam in that final, peaceful summer of 2016 with "Can't Stop the Feeling". Maybe this would be some kind of cool, animated riff on a musical with remixes of modern and classic songs as overseen by JT; something that was for the children, but made by one of the biggest pop stars of their parents childhood. Then came that November when all I remember about trying to cobble together a review was the fact I was writing about Trolls as I watched the Presidential election descend into madness. I gave the original film a straight-up-the-middle two and a half stars and thought of it essentially as colorful, but slight. It was fate that would have my wife and (three year-old at the time) daughter discover the movie some months later and as young children do my daughter latched onto Trolls just as I had Robin Hood some twenty-plus years prior and naturally decided to watch it on repeat until there was no other choice but for the characters to become endearing, the versions of the songs they sang to become the new normal and the weirdness of the world in which it existed to no longer feel strange or far-fetched, but more like home. We bought the soundtrack, we watched the Netflix animated series, and we anxiously awaited the sequel.

Branch (Justin Timberlake) and Poppy (Anna Kendrick) try and convince country music troll, Hickory (Sam Rockwell) of their meaning of music.
© 2019 DreamWorks Animation LLC - © 2019 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.
So, here we are and in what felt like an eternity in both Hollywood and toddler years it took nearly four of them for ol' Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen's DreamWorks studio to come up with what will now forever be known as the first new movie release of the great 2020 pandemic. In Trolls World Tour, JT's Branch and Anna Kendrick's Poppy become enlightened to the fact there are other kinds of trolls in the world outside of their bubbly, pop-inspired ones. This revelation gives way to the existence of rock and roll trolls led by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom as Barb who is focused on collecting magical strings from each of the six main musical genres so as to allow rock to be the one style that rules them all. There's also classical, funk (as led by George Clinton and Mary J. Blige), techno (Anthony Ramos standing in as the head DJ) and country (Kelly Clarkson filling in for what seems to have been a troll modeled after Reba McEntire), but there are also further genres acknowledged that branch (pun intended) off of these primary ones making way for scenes that include yodelers, smooth jazz, reggae and K-Pop trolls and yes, it's as manic and bonkers as you might imagine (that scene with Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan's smooth Jazz troll, Chaz, is especially trippy).

Of course, despite the fact Trolls World Tour is abstract and off the wall to the point this sequel includes the amoeba-like Mr. Dinkles meeting a Troll God the overarching intent of the movie has its heart in the right place in an effort to relay the admirable message of how much our differences do in fact matter and how it's important to acknowledge those differences in an inclusive way. There is also the enjoyable commentary on the mining of black rhythm for white power so to speak as the pop trolls are seemingly not as pure as Poppy thought her ancestors to be as they apparently mined the other genres of music for inspiration or, as Anderson .Paak as the funk troll, Prince D, tells us on the track, “It’s All Love”, that “The Pop Trolls started snatchin' up all of the strings, put the melodies on top of poppy lil' beats; they cut us out of the scene and then forgot what it really means (Not even publish us). Shoulda seen between all of the scheming it seems like the Trolls they stole from were meaningless. Walkin' around like they were the geniuses, but it's only samples, autotune and remixes.”

The "Pop" Trolls do their best to imitate other genres of music in Trolls World Tour.
© 2019 DreamWorks Animation LLC - © 2019 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.
It’s no secret that famous white artists utilized the inherent coolness of underground black artists to turn a profit in the early days of popular music, but the eight credited screenwriters on Trolls World Tour decided this was as good a time as any to illuminate said history for the next generations and for the pure ambition of attempting to encapsulate the rich yet extremely problematic history of people doing “black music so selfishly...” and, you know...using it to make themselves wealthy (“Hey, there's a concept that works!”) this DreamWorks production deserves more credit than it will ever receive. The analogy will likely be lost on most as this commentary regarding the history of the music business largely serves as little more than a compliment to the throughline idea of embracing said differences, but it is this investigation into the feeding of one genre to the next in order to progress and revitalize the art form of songwriting time and time again that truly speaks to the heart of the Trolls franchise.

I can’t believe I’m writing this much about a Trolls sequel in the first place, but while the film will no doubt be dismissed as a sugar-coated acid trip for children (which isn’t exactly incorrect) the fact it goes out of its way to not just acknowledge the racial issues of white folks inheriting black gusto to sell records, but to also push the acceptance of the beauty that can be created when credit is given where credit is due thus allowing for more open channels of communication and collaboration is even better. Yes, it’s surreal and abstract to the point of absurd, but it’s also legitimately funny and my now five and a half year-old who waited almost three and a half years (AKA an eternity!) to see what the future might hold for Poppy and Branch immediately claimed this as the greatest movie she’d ever seen in her short and admittedly not very varied movie-going experience. So, take that as you will, but know she’s not the only one likely heaping such praise on JT’s apology for those NSYNC-era cornrows.

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