A corporate-sponsored disco rave from the happiest recesses of hell, “Trolls” tells the incredible true story of what happened when DreamWorks Animation got really thirsty for that “Minions” money on the same day that a disgruntled former employee decided to spike the entire company’s water supply with massive amounts of ecstasy. Don’t believe what the lame-stream media tells you: that’s definitely what happened. How else to explain this manic rainbow orgy of glitter farts and poop cupcakes? How else to explain how a series of plastic figurines become the basis for a deliriously psychedelic jukebox musical that reinterprets Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” as a veiled attack against the pharmaceutical industry?
Needless to say, Thomas Dam — the Danish woodcutter who created those wild-haired Troll Dolls for his daughter in 1959, and died a very wealthy man in 1988 — is about to give a whole new meaning to the expression: “Rolling in his grave.”
Brought to you by the director of “Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo” (in fairness, he also directed “Shrek Forever After” and “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water”), “Trolls” is a spectacularly empty fantasia of bad songs, bright lights, and militant happiness. But there’s no denying how well the film bludgeons you into submission when it gets into its groove.
The Troll Dolls have never had much of a mythology, and so screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (“Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked”) were effectively starting from scratch. The flimsy story they devised was never going to be anything more than the scaffolding required to support a half-dozen helium-voiced musical numbers and contextualize the chorus of hyper-cute characters who sing them, but for something so derivative their script still makes impressively little sense.
A fairy tale riff on “The Time Machine” and its conflict between the Eloi and Morlocks, the film opens with a well-crafted 2D prologue that introduces its world through the flat pages of an irreverent children’s picture book. Trolls, we’re told, are “the happiest creatures the world has ever known.” They sing, they dance, and they engage in mandatory group hugs every half hour (the tiny woodland sprites all wear little alarm watches just so they don’t forget). Most of all, they try not to get eaten alive by the Bergens, miserable giant monsters who feast on Trolls in order to enjoy fleeting tastes of joy. It’s unclear if eating trolls actually makes the Bergens happy, or if they just think it will make them happy, but that sort of thing doesn’t make much of a difference when you’re hungry. Regardless, it’s not much of a stretch to see the Trolls as all singing, all dancing anti-depressants.
Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) is the princess of the Trolls, because she’s the daughter of King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor), and that’s how princesses work. In addition to being the happiest of the Trolls and having the best voice, Poppy — who looks like Richard Kind reflection in a fuchsia-colored funhouse mirror — is also the prettiest of them all. She’s also dumb as hell, because the party she throws on the 20th anniversary of the Trolls’ exodus from Bergen slavery is loud enough to draw the attention of Chef (Christine Baranski!), the disgraced and despicable Bergen who was blamed for letting her food go to waste.
Chef nabs all of the supporting characters and rushes them back to Bergentown or whatever it’s called, leaving Poppy to go rescue them. Fortunately for our upbeat heroine, she’s not alone: There’s also Branch (Justin Timberlake), a glum survivalist Troll who refuses to hug and hates to sing. But let’s just say “I’ve got a feeling” that he’s eventually gonna sing.
Anyway, it’s all the usual quest business (friends become enemies, enemies become friends, terrifying giant spiders invade the tie-dye musical numbers from your nightmares) until they reach the land of the Bergens. Upon arriving at the pungent, miserable locale, the film flips into something of a weird riff on “Cyrano de Bergerac,” as Poppy and Depressive are enlisted as love gurus for a self-pitying scullery maid named Bridget (Zooey Deschanel, who has a lot of fun throwing her voice in every direction).
Bridget has the hots for the whiny ruler of the Bergens, King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who looks like an unholy cross between sentient mold and a “South Park” character, and their star-crossed love connection is further complicated by some backstories, some backstabbing, and a handful of chirpy sing-a-longs that range from Bonnie Tyler to Gorilliaz. Each of these Kidz Bop covers is lightly offensive in their own way, but some of the less expected tunes at least carry with them a jolt of strange enjoyment. A symphonic chipmunk cover of Lionel Richie’s “Hello?” Whatever you say, DreamWorks.
With the help of some deceptively tactile animation that adds texture to the hollow CG characters by padding them with felt, “Trolls” eventually settles into a hypnotic rhythm of shiny colors and shitty jokes. The humor is anodyne to the extreme (read: James Corden voices one of the Trolls), but every gag is delivered with such an addled rush of excitement that parents might find themselves smiling as much as their kids.
Only later, after the Bergens inevitably learn that they don’t need to eat Trolls in order to be happy, might adults begin to find the whole thing a bit queasy. “Happiness comes from within,” the movie says, you just have to want it bad enough. And you’re never going to be happy if you have to dose yourself with the stuff. Just sing Justin Timberlake’s insidiously catchy new single and call your doctor if symptoms persist. It’s a dangerous message — overt enough that you’ll immediately want to Google which members of the cast and crew are Scientologists — but the anti-drug argument is especially unwelcome in a movie that is clearly meant to be enjoyed on a massive amount of drugs. Kids should heed the lyrics of the hit pop song that plays over the film’s exuberant finale: Sometimes you “can’t stop this feeling inside your bones.”
“Trolls” is certifiably insane. And if it were even a little more coherent or committed to its message, it could even have been dangerous. As it stands, it’s a lot safer than dropping acid, and — when enjoyed responsibly — might be fun enough for the whole family.
“Trolls” opens in theaters on Friday, November 4th.