When you have kids, the first thing you want them to do is cry.
It’s true. Pregnancy is terrifying. Your partner gets fat and moody and her ankles disappear. When you first get to see your baby it’s on a little monitor in grainy monochrome and it looks like a frog. You worry about everything. You attend weird classes and a woman explains to the mums how they should breathe during birth and to the dads how not to be annoying. Never works. No man has ever not been annoying during childbirth. She invites you to ask questions, but you don’t, because the only question you care about is, “Will my child be okay?”, and you know she doesn’t have the answer. You have to wait. Then one day her waters break. There is no sentence in the English language more leaden with panic than, “I think my waters have broken.” And the only thing more horrific than pregnancy is childbirth. Suddenly nine months seems like nothing compared to the hours you sit there, your chin on the edge of the birthing pool. You ask the midwife, “Is my child going to be okay?” and she doesn’t answer. You have to wait. However long it takes feels like forever. Until it happens. She squeezes out a person. And everyone’s covered in sick and blood and everyone’s crying, and the baby is squirming in the water, and a pair of gloved stranger’s hands pluck it out and up into the air, holding it aloft like Simba, still attached, all gloopy, and they poke it and prod it and lightly slap it until finally it cries. That’s when you know it’s alive.
After this all you want them to do is stop crying. Sometimes you think their tiny lungs will belch out sticky wails forever. When they get older it seems like all they want to do is kill themselves. Out the door, in the oven, up the stairs, down whatever hole they can find. You try and hypnotize them with television and bits of plastic. Rarely works. You’re so tired you legitimately think you might die. You can’t imagine how lucky you would feel if the kid just sat down, quietly, and watched a movie. It’s a pipe dream. Eventually, they do. But kids don’t watch movies, plural. They watch movie, singular. The same movie again and again and again. Relentlessly. Every once in a while, I snap a DVD across my head and cry a little bit. It just gets too much. Then I feel bad and another movie gets introduced to the household. And the cycle begins again. I’m not deep enough into parenthood to know how long this phase lasts. It might be forever.
What I’m trying to say is this: Trolls is a movie that I will eventually headbutt.
There’s a recipe for these things, I think. A very specific set of ingredients that alchemize into a movie scientifically designed to be adored by kids and despised by parents. Trolls has some of the best chefs in the business. It’s co-directed by Shrek and SpongeBob hand Mike Mitchell, and written by the Kung Fu Panda scribes, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. They’ve put together a functional story and stuffed it with absurd flights of fancy and fun, charismatic actors. What more could you want?
As it turns out, you get quite a lot of 80s disco classics as well. The colourfully-coiffured, rubber-faced homunculi that you used to find stuck on the end of pencils are so pathologically happy that they often burst into song-and-dance routines just to take the edge off. They hug a lot, too. They have little devices on their wrists that bleep and flash every hour, to let them know it’s time for a cuddle. Trolls is like that. The happy-clappy fun is eventually interrupted by a tribe of hideously dour ogres, the Bergens, who believe that the only way to find true happiness is to eat the trolls. So off they trot with a pouch full of DayGlo entrees, leaving the rescuing duties to Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and her miserable mate, Branch (Justin Timberlake – also executive producer on the soundtrack). There are other stars knocking around – Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, James Corden – but the leads really carry Trolls. If it were up to me Anna Kendrick would be in more of everything, but she’s absurdly well-cast here, and Justin Timberlake is pleasantly low-key as the cynical sidekick who, for predictably hammy reasons, doesn’t sing.
Eventually, I’m going to hate this movie. Eventually. But right now, it’s tough to dislike something so upbeat and visually inventive. I’m hardly the target demographic here, but Trolls is served with enough knowing self-awareness that it has the sense to frequently mock its own glittery good cheer. Parents will like that. And kids will adore everything else.
Enjoyed reading this review? Then you will probably like listening to us too so check out our podcast