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The third in DreamWorks’ animated "Trolls" series is as adorable as the first two, and irresistible in the truest sense of the word. Even parents who fear they were dragged into the theater and just hope it will be short (well under 90 minutes) and painless will find themselves beguiled. That is partly because the movie is designed to beguile the millennials who came of age in the '90s, with in-jokes about boy bands and a sparkling sprinkling of songs to connect them to their high school and college years. But it is also because it is sweet without being sugary, colorful, and very charming, with terrific voice talent and a lot of music. It’s the best of the three.
The first “Trolls” movie, released in 2016, was inspired by the ugly-cute dolls with tufts of brushed-up fuzzy hair that were initially popular in the 1960s. The film imagined a candy-colored world of music and happiness, with Anna Kendrick as Poppy, the Troll King's daughter. She rescues the trolls from giant troll-eating ogres called Bergens and begins a relationship with Branch (Justin Timberlake), a once-reclusive, doomsday prepper troll, afraid to go out since the Bergens took his grandmother. Poppy helps a shy Bergen chef named Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) win the heart of King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and teaches them and Branch that they can find happiness through love, friendship, and music.
In the second film, “Trolls World Tour” (2020), Poppy learns that there are other troll communities with other kinds of music, including hard rock, led by the very aggressive Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom). Once again, Poppy saves the day with her example of kindness and inclusion. But this new film recognizes that some villains may need more than cheerfulness and a good example.
All of the movies make wise and witty use of beloved pop songs, complemented by the colorful designs of the world of the trolls. There is a double meaning in using the word “band” in the title. We learn in an opening flashback that Branch and his brothers were members of a popular boy band called BroZone, a sly nod to Timberlake’s time as a member of *NSYNC. Branch was just a toddler in a diaper when the performance went disastrously wrong, and the group decided to break up. “We’re not in synch,” one brother says. “We’ve gone from boys to men, and now there’s only one direction to go: back streets.” Yes, there will be another comment later in the film referring to the New Kids on the Block, Menudo, and New Edition.
In the present day, King Gristle and Bridget's wedding is interrupted by the arrival of Branch’s oldest brother, John Dory (Eric André), the first time Branch has seen him since the group broke up 20 years ago. He says their brother Floyd (Troye Sivan) has been captured and needs the rest of the brothers to rescue him. Floyd was locked in a diamond cage by the brother-and-sister pop duo Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Broadway star Andrew Rannells). Milli Vanilli-style, their voices are not ready for prime time. So, they captured Floyd and trapped him inside an atomizer with shatterproof diamond walls. They spritz his talent on themselves before performing, depleting not just his singing ability but his very essence.
Time to get the band back together by tracking down Spruce (Daveed Diggs) and Clay (Kid Cudi, also known as Scott Mescudi). This means discovering delightfully imagined new worlds so completely different from anything we’ve seen before that they are presented in part in completely different animation styles, shifting from rounded shapes and candy colors to old-school flat, lite-brite-inspired, near-psychedelic images. Following in the innovative path of Oscar-winner “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” but bringing its own style and imagination, "Trolls Band Together" matches the varied animation and character design styles to the storyline and underscores the wonder and sense of adventure Poppy and Branch bring to their discoveries of how much the world has to offer.
One scene could be a nod to Scooby-Doo, set in what looks like a creepy abandoned amusement park. But that turns out to have some surprises (parents will get a kick out of Clay’s new career). We meet a new character, Viva, played with delicious exuberance by Camila Cabello, who has a connection to Poppy’s past. Like Poppy, she is a sunny soul. But like Branch, past trauma has made her afraid to leave the place that makes her feel safe. Now, she wants to force Poppy to stay there, too.
But Floyd needs to be rescued. Everything zips along quickly; the rescue scene is exciting, and the music features old favorites and new bangers like the *NSYNC song. There are some nice lessons about sibling closeness and accountability for bad behavior. And there are many endearing supporting characters, especially Zosia Mamet as Velvet’s abused assistant Crimp, who looks like Cousin Itt with a bad perm, and Kenan Thompson’s glitter-covered Tiny Diamond. The "Trolls" movies have created a sunny, happy world of music, kindness, community, and generosity. We hear snippets of songs that feel like home, like “9 to 5,” “Push It,” and, of course, “We Are Family,” and that’s a very nice place to spend 83 minutes.
Now playing in theaters.
Anna Kendrick as Poppy (voice)
Justin Timberlake as Branch (voice)
Camila Cabello as Viva (voice)
Eric André as John Dory (voice)
Amy Schumer as Velvet (voice)
Andrew Rannells as Veneer (voice)
Daveed Diggs as Spruce (voice)
Troye Sivan as Floyd (voice)
Kid Cudi as Clay (voice)
Zosia Mamet as Crimp (voice)
Zooey Deschanel as Bridget (voice)
Kunal Nayyar as Guy Diamond (voice)
Kenan Thompson as Tiny Diamond (voice)
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as King Gristle (voice)
Ron Funches as Cooper (voice)
Anderson .Paak as Prince D (voice)
RuPaul as Miss Maxine (voice)
Aino Jawo as Satin (voice)
Patti Harrison as Brandy (voice)
Lance Bass as Boom (voice)
J.C. Chasez as Hype (voice)
Joey Fatone as Ablaze (voice)
Chris Kirkpatrick as Trickee (voice)
Glozell Green as Grandma Rosiepuff (voice)
Dillon Francis as Kid Ritz (voice)
Walt Dohrn as King Peppy / Cloud Guy (voice)
David Fynn as Biggie (voice)
Kevin Michael Richardson as Mr. Dinkles (voice)