We’d love to know which came first. Was it the idea for Trolls Band Together, with its simple narrative of a boy-band breaking up and later needing to reunite to save one of their members? Or was it the decision to reunite NSYNC, the 90’s boy band featuring Trolls voice actor Justin Timberlake, with that band providing some of the songs in Trolls Band Together? It’s a boy-band version of the Chicken and the Egg. It makes you wonder how these cross-media initiatives happen.
We could cynically look at Trolls Band Together as a marketing ploy for the NSYNC brand, but that would be ignoring the sheer gravitational pull that the Trolls movies have over kids of a certain age. For a month now, we’ve been experiencing a Trolls resurgence in our house, and we wish we kept all the toys from the first two movies. So, calling it a cash-grab would be doing it a disservice. It’s clearly got greater appeal than that.
The plot of Trolls Band Together isn’t too dissimilar from the first two films. Trolls get captured, Poppy and Branch head off to save them, and they gather an entourage on the way. Medleys are sung, music genres are straddled, and Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick get to treat the movie as a jukebox of hits that they’ve always wanted to sing. Jobs a good’un.
This time round, the troll-damsel is Floyd (Troye Sivan). He’s Branch’s long-lost brother, and he’s been captured by the heinous Viva and Veneer (Camilla Cabello and Andrew Rannells), an auto-tuned pop duo who are syphoning his troll magic to make them better performers. Branch wants to save Floyd, but Floyd is trapped in an impenetrable glass barrier that can only be broken by the Perfect Harmony. The only people who can achieve the perfect harmony are the boy-band BroZone, which Floyd and Branch were once members of. Branch needs to get the band together (film title unlocked!), but that means reconciling with their brothers, who would rather not be reconciled.
And so we have our Troll journey: Poppy is gobsmacked that Branch was in her once-favourite band, and dreams of having a long-lost sibling too (you can probably guess where that wish goes). Tiny Diamond is along for the ride, while the troll brothers – through a series of trials and events – round out the rest of the crew. Will the old brotherly enmities resurface? Will the brothers reunite in time to save Floyd? Will the songs all be sung by NSYNC? You can probably guess the answer to all of these.
While everything is familiar and undoubtedly pretty – the Trolls franchise have an uncelebrated ability to create tactile worlds that you just want to snuggle up with – Trolls Band Together can’t help feeling like it has diminished across, well, pretty much every category. There’s no singular element that you would point to and say ‘That! That’s clearly rubbish!’, but everything feels like an insubstantial echo of what came before.
Something we and the family loved about Trolls World Tour (still the pinnacle of the franchise so far) is that it was a tour of musical genres. Those genres created the map of the world, and a fiction was developing that made sense. But in Trolls Band Together, that’s all but abandoned. The places we go to aren’t separated by genre, they’re just abandoned carnivals and neon casinos that you could find in any animated movie. Viva and Veneer aren’t embodiments of a musical genre, unless they represent over-produced, auto-tuned modern music. But we don’t think that Trolls Band Together is clever enough to make that kind of statement. They’re more a piss-take of social media hungry generations. Yawn – yeah, we’re going there again.
Then there’s the songs. They’re decent – ‘Better Place’ in particular is on repeat in our house – but they’re no Trolls World Tour. They stay wilfully in the boy band and pop genres, and that’s a missed opportunity. By letting Justin Timberlake and NSYNC preside so heavily over the soundtrack, it loses its breadth.
And more so than the previous movies, the fan service is kicking in. We’ve got a large cast of trolls and bergens now, and DreamWorks won’t sell toys if they don’t include all of them. So, there’s a lot of shoe-horning, as other characters are shown or brought along when the plot might have been that little bit tauter without them. When you’ve got the five brothers to collect throughout the movie (plus the obvious sideshow of a Poppy sibling), that’s a significant cast list.
We’d be lying if we said it wasn’t entertaining, though. There’s a fun interlude into hand-drawn animation, when Tiny Diamond presses the ‘Hustle’ button on their vehicle. The Trolls films still have a knack for turning musical numbers into action sequences, with an ending that is appropriately catchy and dynamic. And there’s fun to be had in some boyband pisstakes, plus the manchildren having to become adults for once.
Trolls Band Together is the worst of the Trolls movies, but that’s more testament to the quality of them so far. It has all the ingredients of a Trolls movie, but – like Floyd, who is used like a battery by the bad guys in the movie – it feels drained of its normal sass. The songs don’t sing like before; the world seems that bit more generic; the character roster is more overstuffed.
Trolls fans will lap up Trolls Band Together, of course, but there’s a feeling that a reinvention is needed for a fourth movie. The formula is starting to show, and the Trolls need more than glitter to patch over the cracks.