‘Trolls Band Together’ Review: DreamWorks Can’t Stop the Feeling This Franchise Has Run Its Course
The Big Picture
- DreamWorks Animation has recently been pushing for more dynamic-looking films that break away from generic computer animation.
- Trolls Band Together focuses on boy bands, particularly those from the 90s, and includes a boy band medley that will appeal to nostalgic parents.
- While the film has some interesting animation choices and introduces new characters, it feels like a retread of the previous Trolls film and lacks the humor and quality of previous installments.
The last year has been surprisingly strong for DreamWorks Animation. Last year, the studio brought Aaron Blabey’s books to life with The Bad Guys, and reinvigorated a long-dormant franchise with the fantastic Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, while this year, we’ve already seen the rare original project from the studio with Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken. Especially with The Bad Guys and The Last Wish, we’ve recently seen DreamWorks attempting to push animation with more dynamic-looking films that don’t necessarily conform to a more generic look that computer animation can often fall into. While their latest film, Trolls Band Together, might be fairly standard in what we have come to expect from this franchise, at the very least, this third film in the Trolls franchise does attempt to do some interesting things with its style.
Trolls Band Together
Poppy discovers that Branch was once part of the boy band ‘BroZone’ with his brothers, Floyd, John Dory, Spruce and Clay. When Floyd is kidnapped, Branch and Poppy embark on a journey to reunite his two other brothers and rescue Floyd.
- Release Date
- November 17, 2023
- Walt Dohrn, Tim Heitz
- Anna Kendrick, Zooey Deschanel, Troye Sivan, Daveed Diggs, Justin Timberlake, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
- Animation, Adventure, Comedy
What Is ‘Trolls Band Together’ About?
Trolls Band Together begins by revealing that Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) used to be in the boy band BroZone with his four brothers before the other members abandoned Branch and went their separate ways. Years later, Branch’s oldest brother, John Dory (Eric André) comes to Branch for his help, as their brother/BroZone member Floyd (Troye Sivan) has been kidnapped by the pop band Velvet and Veneer (Amy Schumer & Andrew Rannells, respectively), who are draining Floyd of his talent to use as their own. Branch, Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and John Dory set off to find the other BroZone brothers and save Floyd before it’s too late for the troll.
Much like 2020’s Trolls World Tour, Trolls Band Together once again finds Branch and Poppy on a musical road trip, going to different lands and finding different characters that will aid in their journey. But while Trolls World Tour presented a lineup of varying musical genres to play around with, Trolls Band Together is mostly making obvious choices—a shame considering the soundtrack has always been one of the primary joys of a Trolls movie. For example, when Velvet and Veneer talk about wanting to become famous, the soundtrack immediately queues up “Fame.” A button pushed by Tiny Diamond (Kenan Thompson)—the sole supporting Trolls character making the journey with Branch and Poppy—that says “Hustle” obviously leads to a “Do the Hustle” needle drop. When the group finds an island under a setting sun, you know that has to lead to a singalong of Weezer’s “Island in the Sun.”
‘Trolls Band Together’ Loves Its Boy Bands
This is primarily because Trolls Band Together is mostly interested in boy bands—particularly boy bands from the 90s that will at least wake up the parents in the theater. Probably the most charming musical moment here comes in the form of a boy band medley that includes everything from Boys II Men to the Backstreet Boys, and considering these are being sung by Timberlake, this is pure catnip for pop-loving parents who grew up in the 90s. Even more curious is how Trolls Band Together makes Timberlake’s character the one being left behind by his band, as opposed to the other way around, as happened with NSYNC. And while Trolls Band Together occasionally has some self-awareness towards its pop sensibilities, it seemingly doesn’t grasp the irony of this choice.
While Trolls Band Together usually works when it focuses on its boy band referencing, it often leaves other ideas and characters to feel half-baked. The script by Elizabeth Tippet (who also wrote Trolls World Tour) gives an entire subplot to the newly married Gristle Jr. (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), who seem to exist only to make sexual innuendos and to act like a deus ex machina to the larger goal of the trolls. Trolls Band Together also introduces us to Viva (Camila Cabello), Queen Poppy’s equally-hyper long-lost sister, and while she’s a nice addition to this world, she doesn’t really have anything to do.
Even stranger is how Trolls Band Together basically leaves this world’s collection of secondary characters at home. Considering how much of the first two movies was about the trolls as a community, and building this odd cast of creatures, Trolls Band Together mostly ignores these characters in order to introduce an entirely new group. While this does at least save us from having another James Corden film in the world, so much of this film’s eccentric humor was centered around those weirdos. Thompson’s Tiny Diamond mostly exists to make up the slack, but it’s an unusual choice to leave this group in the rearview, considering how important they were in the other films.
‘Trolls Band Together’ Surprises With Unique Animation Choices
While the music might not be as dynamic or unique as previous installments, director Walt Dohrn (who has directed all three Trolls films), and co-director Tim Heitz, make up for it with some fascinating animation choices throughout. Velvet and Veneer look like a combination of claymation and Max Fleischer designs, with big eyes that seem to evoke Betty Boop designs. When the gang gets to Vacay Island, the home of BroZone member Spruce (Daveed Diggs), the inhabitants of the island are a mixture of Dr. Seuss characters and the Muppets. Throughout Trolls Band Together, Branch and Poppy even get various 2D redesigns that are more akin to something on Adult Swim than DreamWorks’ usual computer animation style. These jolts in the style are a welcome addition to what could’ve been entirely by the numbers.
Yet for the most part, Trolls Band Together does often feel like a retread of Trolls World Tour’s structure, but with diminishing returns on humor and the quality of music. The Trolls series has always been more about being a brightly-colored, joyous celebration of wacky characters and solid music, and while other DreamWorks franchises like Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, and even Puss in Boots have gone in deeper, more impressive directions, that’s just not Trolls’ thing, and this series is starting to show its age because of it. Intriguing moments of animation experimentation and a new batch of characters just aren’t going to be enough to keep this series worthwhile. Right now, Trolls is going in one direction, and it needs to shake it up a bit more to make things in sync again.
Trolls Band Together comes to theaters in the U.S. on November 17. Click here for showtimes near you.