The Trolls Films Are Shockingly Mindful and it’s a Breath of Fresh Air
Months before the released of the first Trolls film, I was growing sick of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling.” I originally loved the song, but we played it several times a shift at the nightclub I worked security for. When I saw in the song’s credits that JT wasn’t releasing a new album, but that it was for a movie about plastic toys with vibrant hair colors from my youth, I questioned the film’s merit.
Nostalgia is one of the main forces driving popular culture at this moment in time. It’s hard to find something new without taking several steps back. I loved this at first, when social media was young and nostalgia meant joining a group that said, “I miss 90s Nickelodeon,” but in this decade, nostalgia feels like more of a cesspool than a melting pot.
My partner showed me the first Trolls film last week. We were quarantined, we were bored, and he already purchased Trolls: World Tour. The disco covers were fabulous, Anna Kendrick as Poppy, the lead, was amazing, but I wasn’t expecting to see any mindful messages, especially one that could have benefited me when I was younger.
The villains of the first Trolls film lived unhappy lives, but one day per year, they feast on trolls, which apparently taste so good that their taste, or the act of eating them, was their only source of happiness. The trolls escape for 20 years and the villains spend that time in sorrow. One of them captures the trolls, but thanks for the power of song and a successful match making between the villain’s King and a chamber maid, audiences learn with the villains that happiness is not caused by consumption but rather connection.
As someone who grew up overweight and struggled to develop a healthy relationship with food, it made me happy to see this messages displayed in a way that didn’t shame the villains for their bad relationship with consumption, but instead celebrated connection and each other. I could not wait to see how Trolls: World Tour would build upon that message, or any new messages that might come up.
In Trolls: World Tour, the villains are made clear in the first scene. Instead of other species, the trolls’ enemy are trolls. Rock Trolls, to be specific. It turns out that different populations of trolls exist and were united with different music genres, and all trolls used to live in harmony until they were divided because of musical genre at all.
I was so ready for a film dedicated to calling out music elitism. In the opening scene, Queen Barb explains her plan to unite the trolls by seizing control of music and turning everyone into rock zombies. When Poppy goes on a quest to meet Barb, her and her fellow Pop Trolls are quickly incarcerated by Country Trolls, for committing crimes against music. As someone who was the only member of his high school football team that listened to pop-punk, I abused verbally and physically by people who claimed to be my friend otherwise for not liking their genre as much as the one that spoke to me most.
Outdoing itself, however, Trolls: World Tour gets does not settle for the under-told narrative of music elitism. Pop troll, Cooper gets his own side plot in the film that helps the film’s message dive deeper than it normally would. Copper is a troll that does not look like the ones I had growing up. Cooper looks more like a giraffe than a humanoid. His lime green hat contrasts his pink body in a way that makes me smile.
Voiced by Ron Fuches, he’s not the only troll that isn’t voiced by a white actor, but one of the few. When the Pop Trolls learn about the existence of other trolls, Cooper goes on his own adventure to find trolls that look like him. Instead of running into his fellow Pop Trolls in different phases of their journey, he ends up in a desert and is thankfully picked up by the Funk Trolls, who are conveniently his long-lost family.
We get to see Cooper with in his four-legged element surrounded by trolls just like him when Poppy and the gang also meet up with the Funk Trolls. We meet Prince D, Cooper’s long-lost twin brother (voiced by Anderson Paak) and his parents, Queen Essence (Mary J. Blige) and King Quincy (George Clinton). With all of the Funk Trolls we meet being voiced by African Americans, especially by living legends like George Clinton and Mary J. Blige, the music elitism in the beginning of the film seems like more of a symptom of a greater problem or system.
Upon meeting Cooper’s family, Poppy says something along the lines of, “so you were a Funk Troll all along?” Cooper quickly rebukes that, saying he is Pop AND Funk. Prince D follows up by saying that he identifies as Funk and Hip-hop, the latter of which, Poppy does not even know exists. Turned out there was more types of troll than Poppy can label.
Poppy and viewers then learn that the trolls segregation was due to her own pop troll ancestors. The moment feels allegorical for when a white person finds out that their great-great grandparents may have owned slaves, or other bigoted acts their family members may have committed. When Poppy states that all trolls are the same, King Quincy asserts that no, not all trolls are the same.
Soon after that moment, the film reaches its climax as Queen Barb has assembled her magic guitar and began turning trolls into rock zombies. Poppy, through trickery, held the guitar in her grasp, and decided to break the magic guitar. This looked ghastly at first, as all of the trolls lost their color directly after. But, once again, through the power of song and connection, the trolls become as vibrant as ever, with a new togetherness.
The destruction of the guitar looked like the breaking down of the barrier. The film left the trolls free to develop relationships with other genres, so it will be interesting to see how the franchise might progress. If Trolls: World Tour happens to be the final film, it ends on a high note.
Once again, Trolls had outdone itself, this time preaching a message of tolerance, finding common ground, and a celebration of differences. All of which are great messages that everyone in the family should follow, making Trolls a film that my eight-year old cousin can enjoy with her mom on repeat and one that can lead to a great quarantined date night.