In “Trolls World Tour,” the singing, dancing, aggressively effervescent trolls of “Trolls” (2016) learn that they constitute only one genre of troll. They are pop-music trolls, prone to singing earworms like “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun.” The world is also home to hard-rock trolls, country trolls, techno trolls, funk trolls and classical-music trolls, who are somewhat shortchanged, presumably because they are less relevant to the soundtrack. (Although Pennywhistle, the talking woodwind voiced by Charlyne Yi and animated in a style that suggests stop-motion, is cute.)
At least the classical-music trolls occupy a dedicated corner of Troll Kingdom. This appears not to be the case with the K-pop trolls, the reggaeton trolls or the yodeling trolls, who are depicted as bounty hunters. Does something about regionally associated music suggest unscrupulous, mercenary qualities to the filmmakers? Weighing against that hypothesis is the lone smooth-jazz troll (Jamie Dornan), also a bounty hunter, whose mellow sax playing induces lysergic visions and paralysis. Nobody likes that guy.
But this is getting ahead of the story. The bounty hunters, when they appear, target Queen Poppy of the pop trolls (Anna Kendrick), who, along with the dour Branch (Justin Timberlake), has set out to break bread with the hard-rock trolls’ ruthless and mohawked Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom). Barb has embarked on a world tour that owes less to concerts than to Julius Caesar. She wants hard rock to be the only station on the dial. The movie begins with her subjugation of the techno trolls, who live under the sea for some reason and are led (or, rather, DJ’d) by Anthony Ramos.
While Barb’s cause seems patently unjust, it is a form of payback — a rebellion against pop’s colonization of other music. This is explained in song by Prince D (Anderson .Paak), King Quincy (George Clinton) and Queen Essence (Mary J. Blige), who preside over the funk trolls of Vibe City. History is written by the winners, and the pop trolls’ Torah (seriously) neglects to mention they have crowded out the marketplace. If you were to connect some dots and apply way too much thought to the movie’s iconography, there is a hint here of an anti-Semitic trope: Jewish domination of the entertainment industry.
But it is dangerous to over-read “Trolls World Tour,” which celebrates musical diversity — pushing back against pop music’s appropriation of African-American artists’ innovations — and whose multiculturalism is clearly intended in a spirit of inclusiveness and good humor. While the genre-bridging premise affords the film more variety and verve than its sugary predecessor, the movie, directed by Walt Dohrn, still gives you the sensation of being barricaded in a karaoke lounge where all the attendees have snorted Sweet Tarts. None of the darker edges can blot out the sunshine. Branch confesses to be pining for Poppy, rock turns out to be softer than it first appears and everyone sings in harmony.
Trolls World Tour