Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Universal chose to release Trolls World Tour to streaming platforms to rent. A 48 hour rental costs $19.99. Initially I balked at it, but then I did the math and realized that I was actually saving money. If you are able and interested, I recommend treating your family.
Like its predecessor, Trolls World Tour is a feast for the eyes and the ears. Its explosive display of color and sound kept my three and five year olds interested even if they didn’t fully grasp the film’s broader messages about the dangers of cultural imperialism/supremacy and the power of diversity. Like so many other animated films, it’s full of visual and aural inside-jokes to delight adults (including a blink-and-you-miss-it reference to God in Monty Python’s Holy Grail).
Musically, Trolls World Tour is like its predecessor. Even if its original songs aren’t as good as those of the first movie, most of the covers are a lot of fun. Anna Kendrick (Poppy) and Justin Timberlake (Branch) still shine in their roles. Unfortunately, new-to-franchise Rachel Bloom (Barb, Queen of the Hard Rock Trolls), who was excellent in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, can’t keep up with Kendrick and Timberlake for vocal power and it really shows in her performances of hard rock covers. For some reason, the film-makers have asked her to cover three of the greatest hard rock vocalists of all time: Ann Wilson in Heart’s Barracuda, Klaus Meine in The Scorpion’s Rock You Like a Hurricane, Ozzy Osborne’s Crazy Train. (Though the latter joins the film for a pitch-perfect cameo.)
Probably the best musical moment for my Millennial-ears is the medley of “the most important songs in the history of music” (according to the Pop-focused main characters): “Wannabe” (The Spice Girls), “Who Let the Dogs Out” (The Baha Men), “Good Vibrations” (Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch), “Gangnam Style” (PSY), “Hey Baby” (Pitbull feat. T-Pain), and “Party Rock Anthem” (LMFAO). When the medley doesn’t land with its intended audience, Justin Timberlake’s Branch says, “I knew it… ‘Who Let the Dogs Out…’ too far.” A laugh-out-loud moment for me. (Sidebar: If you’d love to learn more about the wild history of THAT song, I can’t recommend highly enough this excellent episode of the 99% Invisible Podcast: Whomst Among Us Has Let The Dogs Out? Seriously, it’s great.)
Thematically, Trolls World Tour’s choices are impressive. The first film focused on the relationship between the incredibly upbeat Trolls and the chronically depressed Burgans, and taught an important message about happiness. Before the events of the film, Burgans only experienced happiness upon eating Trolls, but Poppy and her friends teach the Burgans (and us) that happiness is something that we already have within us and we can’t expect it to come to us from the outside. Trolls World Tour ends up in a similar place, but with “Music.” (Almost literally: characters claim by the end that music is something that is within them.) But that facile parallelism belies a deeper message.
Trolls World Tour feels like a film for my generation of white parents who, if we were actively taught anything about racial or cultural difference, were encouraged to be “colorblind.” As we come into our maturity and raise our own children, many of us have begun to understand colorblindness for what it is: white supremacy and cultural imperialism.
In Trolls World Tour, the primordial history of the world tells the story of how different genres of music came to be. Differences led to conflict and, unknowingly, both the hero and the villain are repeating a cycle wherein they see their individual genre of music as superior to others. In their own ways, they both attempt to homogenize the music of the Trolls’ world. One of the best examples of this is the moment when Poppy belittles country music trolls by saying, “Maybe they don’t realize that music is supposed to make you happy!” (This made me think of the King of Tears episode from the second season of Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast.)
One of the most powerful journeys of the film is Poppy’s changing understanding of history. When she’s told history from a marginalized perspective, she says “That’s not what it said in our scrapbooks!” In reply, one of the funk music trolls says, “Scrapbooks are cut out, glued and glittered by the winners.”
Trolls World Tour is a well told story of discovering that homogenization does not equal harmony. It’s a joy to see and hear the main character grow from “we’re all Trolls, differences don’t matter” to accepting another leader’s truth that “denying our differences is denying the truth of who we are.” It’s easy to write a fictional character who can turn on a dime, but for many of us learning and practicing this truth is the work of a lifetime. Still, Trolls World Tour is a great entry into the conversation.
If you’re looking for other resources about the danger of and damage caused by colorblindness and white-washing, I highly recommend Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist and Jennifer Harvey’s Raising White Kids.
“Drive Home” (remember when we used to drive home?) Discussion Questions:
- What kind of music do you like? What kind of music don’t you like? What does music tell us about who a person is?
- Do people know you more because of what you love or because of what you dislike/hate? How can we share more of what we love?
- Were there any types of music (or trolls) you hadn’t heard before? Can we listen to more of that when we get home?
- What does Trolls World Tour teach us about friendship? Do you have friends who disagree with you? How might you make friends with somebody who is different from you?