written by David Steffen

Trolls is a 2016 DreamWorks animated romantic comedy adventure film for kids, based on the lucky troll dolls that were popular in the 80s (you know, the little naked dolls with the giant flourescent hair?).

Trolls are tiny creatures of nearly endless happiness, spending all of their time singing, dancing, and hugging.  They also have fast-growing prehensile camoflauging hair which was admittedly pretty neat.  Twenty years ago, all of the known trolls were held in captivity by a race of much larger creatures called Bergens, who live in nearly unending unhappiness but who discovered that they can be happy for a short time if they eat a troll.  So the Bergens rounded up all the trolls and kept them captive in the center of their town, and once a year on the Trollstice holiday, the Bergens have a feast of trolls and as a result have a day of happiness.

But on that fateful Trollstice twenty years ago King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor) led the trolls on their escape, burrowing out of their enclosure and out of the Bergen city before they could be eaten.  The Bergen chef who was in charge of preparing the Trollstice feast was exiled into the wilderness.  Twenty years have passed and the trolls still live free in the woods, unharrassed by their former tormentors.

On this momentous anniversary, the trolls are having a bigger celebration than ever to celebrate.  Only one troll is opposed to the festivities–Branch (Justin Timberlake), a strangely uncolorful, unjoyous troll who refuses to sing or to dance and who has a reputation of being a paranoid crackpot because he is constantly raving about the dangers of being discovered by the Bergens.  Branch’s worst fears come true as the exiled chef from all those years ago sees the fireworks of the troll celebration, and captures a pouchful of trolls to win her way back into the good graces of the Bergens.  Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick), daughter of King Peppy who had led the trolls to escape all those years ago, ropes Branch into helping her rescue her friends.

I got the impression that the audience of the movie is supposed to find the carefree joyous attitude of most of the trolls endearing, but I found it anything but.  It can be a wonderful trait to find happiness wherever you go, but I found it very hard to have a great deal of sympathy for the trolls’ plight in this movie which was brought on by ignoring Branch’s solid advice and insisting on partying in the loudest possible fashion despite their deadly enemies being less than a day’s walk away.  It’s one thing to celebrate, and another thing to do so in a fashion that seals your own doom as you avoid thinking critically about anything.  Branch’s paranoia and grumpiness was portrayed as though it were a character flaw, but if anyone had listened to him, no one would have been in danger, and even without that I wouldn’t say it’s a character flaw to not want to participate in what appears to be the PG version of a giant drunken frat party.  Besides Branch, I did have some sympathy for Poppy, since she was the only troll inclined to actually take some initiative and try to make things better.

I did feel sorry for the Bergens, and wondered what it is that made them so unhappy.  Maybe a dietary deficiency that messes with their brain chemistry, and the only readily available dietary remedy is troll-flesh?  I… generally had a lot more sympathy for them, as horrible as they were supposed to be.  And, again, the movie completely lost me with the implication that the Bergens really just need to loosen up, because apparently dancing solves depression?

I’m sure a lot of kids will love this movie, and probably some adults.  But, I guess I’m more of a Branch-at-the-beginning-of-the-movie sort of guy.  I was a little surprised they went with this moral for a kid’s movie–usually morals for kids movies are pretty unobjectionable (if not remarkable) but this one felt way off the mark.

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David Steffen

David Steffen is an editor, publisher, and writer. If you like what he does you can visit the Support page or buy him a coffee! He is probably best known for being co-founder and administrator of The Submission Grinder, a donation-supported tool to help writers track their submissions and find publishers for their work . David is also the editor-in-chief here at Diabolical Plots. He is also the editor and publisher of The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List series. David also (sometimes) writes fiction, and you can follow on BlueSky for updates on cross-stitch projects and occasionally other things.

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