‘Trolls’ Sneak Peek: How DreamWorks Embraced Retro Happiness

DreamWorks gave a pre-Comic-Con first look about transforming Thomas Dam's beloved, fuzzy dolls into a musical comedy (opening November 4).

Trolls” represents the far side of “Shrek”— a bright, happy, fuzzy, nostalgic, musical journey that taps the idealism of the ’60s/’70s counterculture for all its worth.

What else would you do with Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam’s iconic, lovable troll dolls?

“There was no story, there was no mythology, so we could create whatever we wanted,” explained Dohrn at a recent presentation at the Glendale campus where he screened more than 20 minutes of footage. Together with director Mike Mitchell and producer Gina Shay, the “Shrek Forever” team forged a new folk tale that countered the notion of trolls being scary.

“But one of the things we knew we had to have was that iconic hair and we made the story about happiness,” Dohrn added. “How do you get it? Where does it come from? What happens when you lose it?”

In “Trolls,” Poppy (Anna Kendrick) epitomizes the perky, quirky hippy ethos: singing, dancing, hugging, scrapbooking and partying. However, BFF Branch represents the most pessimistic troll, who lives in a bunker and warns of the impending attack of the monstrous Bergens, who eat trolls wrapped in bacon for a sugar rush. He’s voiced by Justin Timberlake, who also exec produced the soundtrack and wrote four original songs, including the hit single, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

And when the doom and gloom prophecy comes true, Poppy convinces Branch to rescue their fellow trolls on an adventure to the gray, polyester Bergen Town. There’s even an “Oz”and Seuss-like section where they encounter a host of fantasy worlds during this rite of passage.

Trolls concept

With a directive from DreamWorks head Jeffrey Katzenberg to go crazy with the hair, the animation team created a task force to tackle hair, which became the equivalent of the trolls’ super power. This organically led to an all-felt design of their world by production designer Kendal Cronkhite.

“So with animation we went for a hand-made look, inspired by ‘The Muppets,’ which we call a fuzzy immersion,” commented Dohrn.

Also, to convey scale differences between the mini trolls and human-size Bergens, DreamWorks used a lot of long lenses and short depth of field.

And with all of the singing, dancing and hugging came DreamWorks’ first musical. In addition to originals by Timberlake and the “Get Back Up Again” anthem from the Tony/Emmy-nominated songwriting team of Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen”), are a sprinkling of classics from from Earth Wind and Fire, Lionel Ritchie and the Gorillaz.

“This theme of happiness is especially important today,” Dohrn emphasized, “and the movie comes out November 4 at a time when we’ll need a little dose of happiness on the eve of the Presidential election [on November 8].”

Meanwhile, “Trolls” invades Comic-Con’s Hall H in San Diego on July 21 at 10:00 am, where Dohrn will be joined by Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, director Mitchell and producer Shay.

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