Scattershot animation from DreamWorks, featuring the voices of Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake
Bright and peppy as it is, DreamWorks Animation's latest lark looks diminished besides recent, bolder peers. Less zingy than Disney's Zootropolis, less memorable than Pixar's Finding Dory and less musically distinct than Laika's Kubo and the Two Strings, the hyperactive buddy movie's compensations include kid-friendly psychedelics and adult-friendly retro-pop. But with its all-bases pitch lacking a strong centre, the scattershot result wobbles between ditzy fun and a more studiedly ingratiating approach.
At least writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (Kung Fu Panda) and directors Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn have fun with the candy-hued, scare-haired Dam Trolls – felt cuties who love EDM, enjoy warm hugs and poop cupcakes when scared. That fear is stoked by the Bergens, toothy terrors whose belief that eating Trolls brings happiness tempers the film's sweetness nicely. When a Bergen chief abducts several Trolls, perky Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) mounts a rescue bid, joined reluctantly by grumpy survivalist Branch (Justin Timberlake), whose Bergen-based paranoia might not be unmotivated.
Slender as the plot is, chuckles and lysergic colours brighten the odd couple's jaunt. Vocoder-voiced disco Troll Guy Diamond (Kunal Nayyar) and a talking cloud raise giggles; a 'Sound of Silence'-scored set-piece may induce acid flashbacks among grown-ups; and a Cinderella-esque sub-plot involving a Bergen maid (Zooey Deschanel) and the Bergen king (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) recalls DreamWorks' Shrek among others.
Yet if you add Poppy's similarity to Inside Out's Joy and echoes of 2006's penguin rave-up Happy Feet, Trolls risks resembling a box-ticking exercise rather than a show of fresh flavour. Even the Timberlake-guided soundtrack furnishes only a few new beats alongside karaoke ballads, including a cover of 'True Colours' for the film's icky message about happiness, that sits awkwardly with the otherwise surface-skating mischief. Although its well-stuffed visuals do dazzle, Trolls feels like something half-cooked: a kids' holiday diversion that certainly won't leave you Troll'd over.
General release from Fri 21 Oct.