It’s hard to be excited for a sequel film, let alone one from Dreamworks. Sure, they’ve turned out hits like “Shrek 2”, “How To Train Your Dragon 2”, and “Kung Fu Panda 2”. But it’s difficult to justify a sequel to a film as hyperactive and peppy to a fault as 2016’s “Trolls” beyond just making more money.
Director Walt Dohrn (“Shrek Forever After,” “Trolls”) and the five writers on this flick: Jonathan Aibel (“Kung Fu Panda 2”, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water”), Glenn Berger (“Kung Fu Panda 2”, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water”), Maya Forbes (“Infinity Polar Bear”, “The Rocker”), Wallace Wolodarsky (“The Rocker”, “Monsters vs. Aliens”), and Elizabeth Tippet (“Neighbors from Hell”) have done a surprisingly good job of expanding the world of this sequel in a way that makes a lot of sense. Given how music-centric the first movie was, it only makes sense to broaden that aspect for this sequel.
This world and music expansion also helps to bolster the film’s soundtrack and cast to include the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Anderson Paak, George Clinton, Mary J. Blige, J Balvin, Gustavo Dudamel, Anthony Ramos, and Red Velvet. It’s a veritable who’s who of all across the spectrum of musical genres and it lends the film’s extensive soundtrack and world a lot of creative heft.
That’s right, there’s quite a bit of world-building here. There are plenty of other genres besides Pop at play here, and each get their moment in the spotlight. This makes some of the subplots, one of which involves a Troll with a multi-genre background, and groups of subgenre Trolls, far more interesting. It’s just much easier to take, for example, a world focused entirely on Funk, seriously when the king and queen are voiced by George Clinton and Mary J. Blige. And it is very important that you take this world seriously, because “Trolls World Tour” might be a kid’s movie about bright colors and music, but it’s also about cultural appropriation.
In a trend continuing from “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Frozen 2”, “World Tour” is yet another kids film sequel that stuffs some really heavy real-world metaphors into its plot. As queen of Rock Barb tries to forcefully transform the world into only loving rock music, there are legitimate discussions into why the genres and worlds are separate from each other, who’s to blame for that separation, and who music even belongs to in the first place.
This isn’t Pixar levels of subtext, but the effort is clearly there, and it makes the whole experience feel a bit more nutritional. It’s also pulled off far better than the first film's depression and “eating your feelings” plotline was.
A huge reason why it works is thanks to the performance from Rachel Bloom (“The Angry Birds Movie 2,” “Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) as Queen Barb. While the rest of the cast is pretty good, but nothing exceptional, her voice work and singing really knocks it out of the park. Her comedic timing and stylings for this villainess showcase just why she seems to be on every animated casting director’s radar in the past few years.
Just like with the first film, the arts and crafts visual style makes this one of DreamWorks’ most visually distinct films yet. Despite what you might think with the smaller budget, it ends up looking even better than the first. Waterfalls are silvery strands of cellophane, the ground is literally made out of stuffing and crafts, wide-open desserts are patchwork, and every piece of sand and drop of water is glitter. Some moments even look stop motion, and it ends up being as gorgeous to watch as it is to listen to.
Now, at the end of the day, this is a sequel to “Trolls”, and therefore no matter how pretty it looks, great the world-building is, and surprisingly effective its sub-textual social message is, if you didn’t like the first film, you’re not going to like this one. It’s at least more effective and creative than the giants vs. trolls fairy tale plot of the first film, but the very things that annoyed so many about the first film are baked into the entire franchise by this point.
So, take that warning as seriously as you wish. At the end of the day, “Trolls World Tour” might just be better than the first film, thanks to stronger subtext, visual style, soundtrack, world-building, and a pretty exceptionally memorable villain. At the end of the day, it’s about as good as it could possibly be. 4/5