"Trolls Band Together" stars Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Kenan Thompson, Camila Cabello, Eric Andre, Troye Sivan, Scott Mescudi, Daveed Diggs, Amy Schumer, Andrew Rannells, and Zosia Mamet. Releasing on November 17, 2023, the film has Poppy and Branch journeying to reunite Branch with his long-lost brothers.
The film is directed by Walt Dohrn, known for directing the previous "Trolls" movies. It is the third installment in the "Trolls" franchise. Now that we have moved on from this year's series of spooky treats, with some better than most, it's time to focus on the appetizers that'll savor us for the rest of the year. There are plenty of exciting choices to go along with our main holiday courses, both for modern and cinema audiences, so how about we start with our third trip to the colorful and musical world of DreamWorks's "Trolls"? Following the streaming debut of "World Tour" due to the pandemic, the hit animated franchise returns to revamp its theatrical tour, and this time, it's adding "boy band fever" into its mixtape. Considering the immense disappointment I had with the studio's previous release, "Ruby Gillman", I was more than happy to reunite with the crazy-haired trolls that aren't like the ones on social media. The film doesn't hit theaters until next week, but I attended the early access showing last weekend to experience this kid-friendly concert before everyone else. Better move over, Swifties, because it's time for the Troll fans to shine with their own concert experience. With that said, let's see if this latest installment is as peppy and magical as a boy band reunion.
The story once again follows Queen Poppy (Kendrick) and Branch (Timberlake) as they recently reach the next stage of their relationship. While attending a wedding between Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) and King Gristle Jr. (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), they get an unexpected visit from a mysterious troll, who reveals himself as one of Branch's long-lost brothers, John Dory (Andre). It's then revealed that Branch was part of Poppy's favorite boyband, BroZone, who disbanded when he was a baby. They also learn that Branch's brother Floyd (Sivan) is captured by the wannabe pop-star twins, Velvet (Schumer) and Veneer (Rannells), who plan to use his musical talents for nefarious purposes. Along with Tiny Diamond (Thompson), Poppy and Branch embark on another adventure to rescue Floyd and reunite the family Branch left behind years ago.
"Trolls" is one of the franchises aimed at families that I wouldn't mind going back to occasionally. Even though the movies don't match the quality of DreamWorks's other properties like "Shrek" and "How to Train Your Dragon", they do get points for creativity and catchy music. The first "Trolls" movie was delightful for its straightforward plot and animation, and while most people may not like "World Tour" as much as its predecessor, I still think it's decent family entertainment. In the end, the "Trolls" movies are equivalent to every famous pop star on the planet. They're great for providing old and new fans with their music until their popularity eventually brings out the haters. "Trolls Band Together" undoubtedly seeks to keep the party going with its formula despite what others think of the franchise now, but how does it compare with its predecessors?
If you've seen the previous "Trolls" films, you'll know that "Band Together" is another piece of family-friendly eye candy that's delectable for kids but mildly excessive and overblown for specific adults. However, it's also another film that'll likely introduce younger viewers to the type of music they're using. "Trolls World Tour" provided music from genres like classical, country, rock, and funk. For "Band Together", the movie offers the concept of boy band music, meaning there will be plenty of nostalgic moments for adults who grew up with classic boy bands like NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. Considering that NSYNC reunited for the first time for this movie, its idea is more fitting than it has any right to be. I grew up listening to these boy bands, so I can easily understand what it's like to experience that type of magic again, especially in a kids movie. Unfortunately for me, that's pretty much the only thing worth remembering, as "Trolls Band Together" offers a middling concert experience that's all spectacle and small on the narrative surface.
If you can't tell by the movie's title, "Band Together" is ironically about reuniting a once-popular music group that disbanded due to a feud. More importantly, it further explores Branch's past as BroZone's youngest member who got caught in this brotherly conflict. Amid the quest to rescue one of their own, we see Branch and his brothers learning what it means to be a great sibling, even if they aren't perfect. Of course, this message wouldn't be complete without including Poppy's long-lost sister, Viva (Cabello), because why not? Unsurprisingly, the themes in "Band Together" will likely inspire kids to cherish their own brothers and sisters regardless of whether they're flawed or not. However, the film's sweet notes weren't enough to hide most of its sour ones.
It's far from a disastrous concert, as it contains plenty of enjoyment from the franchise's creativity and energy, more so than "Ruby Gillman". But, it is becoming evident that the dip in storytelling quality is gradually affecting the film's musical vibe as it progresses. "Band Together" delivers a well-paced yet cliched plot that's been done in other movies and television shows involving a band's reunification, but does it in a way that lacks the surprising depth and cleverness to stand out above its musical competition. It also has a few story elements that felt underdeveloped and unrewarding to its central plot, mainly John Dory, the oldest member of BroZone obsessed with perfection. If they had found a better way to develop John further with its 90-minute runtime, it would've strengthened the movie's message. There's also Tiny Diamond striving to become a man, although that part only exists to provide kid-friendly humor, which was hit-and-miss in my eyes. The wordplay involving the boybands seen in the marketing was neat, but the rest periodically fell flat for me.
While its story and humor were the weakest tracks in this vibrant and peppy playlist, I can admit that it's still fun for me to listen to. Part of the reason is the voice cast, with most of the actors returning to reprise their respective roles. Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake continue to provide charming chemistry together as Poppy and Branch, respectively, regarding their vocal and singing performances. Poppy's overzealous and optimistic personality can still be a bother to those who didn't like her in the previous films, but those who do will find plenty of delight in Kendrick's performance. Eric Andre and Kenan Thompson were also respectable in their roles as John Dory and Tiny Diamond, and Camila Cabello serves as a decent addition to the cast as Viva. Finally, we have its antagonists, Velvet and Veneer, voiced by Amy Schumer and Andrew Rannells. Despite their solid voice work and the rubber-hose-inspired character designs, the pop-star twins were nothing too special regarding their agendas and personalities. They couldn't quite hold a candle to what "World Tour" delivered for Queen Barb, but that's just me.
Another reason is the animation. It has always been the most vital aspect of the "Trolls" films for one reason: the imagination built around it. It bears repeating that the world-building in "Trolls" resembles an arts and crafts project that's lively, immersive, and, in most cases, fun. Sure, it can periodically be too abundant for some viewers's eyes, but it's hard not to admire the effort put into crafting the surreal settings, musical sequences, and unique characters. "Band Together" unsurprisingly proves this theory through its colorful and dynamic presentation. But, of course, it's also not without its ability to provide some weirdness in the designs. You got Vacay Island for its puppet characters and Mount Rageous for its sky-utopia-like setting and rubber-hose citizens. The film also had a couple of 2D animated sequences inspired by "Yellow Submarine" and "Fantasia". In other words, it's a kid-friendly acid trip that's undoubtedly bizarre but also suitably imaginative, and best of all, you don't need to take any drugs to experience it.
Overall, "Trolls Band Together" is harmonious in its imagination, music, and charm, but its discordant narrative prevents it from creating the perfect cinematic harmony. Like its predecessors, it serves the purpose of entertaining its target audience with its colors, characters, and songs. However, when it comes to its quality, the threequel doesn't offer much else beyond its concert-like experience to win back the franchise's detractors. I found myself enjoying it for its voice cast, messages, soundtrack, and creative animation. Sadly, its cliched plot, underdeveloped side characters, and hit-and-miss humor make this the weakest installment in the music-influenced series. Thankfully, it's not as tedious and bare-bones as "Ruby Gillman", but I wouldn't call it the next "Shrek 2", either. If you like the previous two "Trolls" movies as much as the kids, you'll likely enjoy "Band Together". If not, your best option is to listen to the boybands from your childhood instead.