“Trolls Band Together” – Road trip.
In Hollywood’s never-ending quest to milk every franchise into a desiccated husk, they present to us Trolls Band Together. While being the third film entry in the franchise, Band Together is also preceded by two holiday specials and two television series spanning 104 episodes. If there was anything left for this franchise to give, Hollywood pulled out all the stops to squeeze it out. And by all the stops I mean rehash the plot of the first movie and convince NSYNC to perform its first original song in twenty-two years as a forgettable cameo in the movie’s epilogue.
In my review of Five Nights at Freddy’s, I noted that the movie felt like an episode of Scooby-Doo. Maybe having that fresh in my brain is the reason I feel like Band Together is essentially an episode of Smurfs. In fact, the entire franchise is essentially a remake of Smurfs. A race of tiny, musical beings featuring a pointy head covering and living in the forest are constantly in danger of being eaten by giant humanoids. I’m very disappointed in myself for taking seven years to see the similarities.
When Branch (Justin Timberlake) was in diapers, he performed with his four older brothers in a boyband called BroZone. The oldest brother, John Dory (Eric Andre), was obsessed with the group hitting the perfect family harmony (which we’re told can shatter diamond), eventually driving all five siblings apart. Fast-forward to the present where Branch and Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick) are helping plan and execute the wedding of Gristle Jr. (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Bridget (Zooey Deschanel). You remember the Gristle and Bridget, don’t you? They are two of the Gargamels, er…Bergens, creatures who are now friends with the trolls after spending years literally eating trolls.
Midway through the wedding ceremony, John Dory crashes the proceedings, interrupting to inform Branch that their brother Floyd (Troye Sivan) is being held prisoner in Mount Rageous by pop-star siblings Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells). Like the Bergens, Velvet and Veneer are tall, human-esque beings trading trolls’ lives for their own happiness. In this case, the duet have imprisoned Floyd in a magic diamond perfume bottle that sucks out his talent and gives it to whomever sprays themselves with the bottle. If that doesn’t scream Gargamel plot, I don’t smurf what does.
Like the first Trolls, Poppy and Branch set out on a rescue quest before Floyd is (figuratively) eaten. As the title suggests, in order to save Floyd, they have to get the band back together. And I hope you are a fan of family members squabbling on a road trip. If not, the phrase “are we there yet” is going to be the only thought you have for a large chunk of the film.
Like all road trips, there are stops along the way to break up the bickering. The first is Vacay Island, filled with people similar to those in Mount Rageous, but Rastafarian surfers instead of the rage partiers of Mount Rageous. Spruce (Daveed Diggs) also lives on the island, married to a Vacay Islander and has children with her. This reproductive implausibility is directly pondered by the group, forcing us and our children to also ponder it. It’s funny until your brain conjures an image, then it’s just fun.
The second location is an abandoned Bergen miniature golf course inhabited by trolls. In a half-baked, completely unnecessary subplot, these trolls turn out to be a group left behind when the rest of the trolls escaped the Bergen troll tree prison at the beginning of the first film. Plus, the last brother, Clay (Kid Cudi), is there. The leader of the group is Poppy’s long-lost sister Viva (Camila Cabello), whom Poppy did not know existed. Viva and friends still think Bergens want to eat them, so try to force Poppy and the gang to remain with them. While Poppy is ecstatic that she has a sibling (after spending most of her screen time wishing she had a sibling), the quest must go on. Poppy and Clay depart, leaving Viva with the knowledge that Bergens no longer eat trolls, setting up a contrived reason for Viva to show up in the climax (involving the honeymooning Gristle and Bridget).
While I was fairly entertained (I always enjoy quest stories), Band Together pales in comparison to the original Trolls (though is much better than the atrocious Trolls World Tour). Almost no time is spent exploring the new realms or species we’re introduced to. Poppy and Branch experience zero character growth. Gristle and Bridget are reduced to punchlines. The new characters introduced are so thin they are barely one-dimensional. Worst of all, Cloud Guy – the best character in the whole franchise – is only on screen for a couple of seconds. And that’s before we note that getting the band back together to hit the perfect family harmony is a big MacGuffin. Why not just take the lid off the perfume bottle? I’m pretty sure that’s what the Smurfs would have done.
It’s easy to dismiss any criticism by saying adults are not the target audience for this film. Except, we very clearly are. NSYNC broke up twenty-one years ago, so today’s kids don’t know what a Joey Fatone is. This makes the NSYNC cameo in Band Together meaningless to everyone who can’t legally drink. Then there is the soundtrack, featuring hits from decades ago, from Weezer’s “Island in the Sun” to The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” Troll dolls themselves debuted in 1959, hitting popular heights in the 1960s and again in the 1990s. And don’t forget the movie asks the audience to imagine what it would look like if a troll doll had sex with a giraffe. There’s more than one way to hit the perfect family harmony.
Rating: Ask for eight smurfs back.