This past weekend, whether you knew it or not, you were privy to a turning point in movie history. There’s probably been a number of different rites of passage that the cinematic industry has undergone in my lifetime but I’d hesitate to say all of them were as noteworthy as the digital rental release of “Trolls World Tour”. I know, it seems a bit silly to hype this up as much as I may have already done. But the reality of what happened when this film was released for digital rental on Friday instead of theatrical release is an unprecedented change in the delivery of movies to the viewer. Obviously the world has been in the throes of the Coronavirus for what feels like an eternity to many at this point. The effects have ranged from inconvenience to worlds being turned upside down. So I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s situation by imposing some grandiose importance of a Trolls movie. But in the wake of that disclaimer, as a movie website and podcast, this is relatively big news in our world. So I wanted to take a moment and jot down a few of my thoughts on the film itself and some of the moving pieces surrounding it as they ripple outward to other mechanisms in the theatrical industry.
First lets tackle the film. Its hard to really “spoil” a kids move because children are wow’d by most of the magic regardless and if your children are anything like my 5 and 7 year old, they ask four hundred million questions about completely inconsequential details superfluous to any actual aspect of the film. And for parents, if you are like “Aww man! That totally ruined the movie for me!” I apologize in advance. I will do my best to stay away from spoilers as the movie is barely 48 hours old at this point. My overall reaction to the film is that I quite liked it. Animated sequels these days have a lot of pressure to reproduce the success of an original hit, of which the first Trolls film most definitely was. The musical stylings of Anna Kendrick, a national treasure in my estimation, and the very talented Justin Timberlake, in all his animated glory, were a formidable team in the freshmen run of this budding franchise. With the breakout song “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, the initial Trolls movement was fully in motion. To capture that kind of lighting in a bottle a second time is almost always an uphill battle. But Dreamworks as an animation studio is quite familiar with a number of strong franchises from angry ogre fairy tales with a 20th century twist to the winged warriors of Berk, these people know how to capitalize on sequels.
So if you missed any of the numerous advertisements put out for Trolls World Tour, the basic premise is that outside of our beloved “Pop Music Trolls”, there are a number of other musically branded factions of the hairy harmonizers. From Country to Funk and even a dash of Yodeling in the mix, we find there are 6 main groupings of trolls, each equipped with their own magical musical string that represents them. While all these troll communities have been living quietly in peace, one troll royalty has found her way to scheming a global takeover. Barb, the queen of Rock, is on her “World Tour”, a delightfully punny title that fits rather well, to secure all six strings and convert the entire troll world to Rock. It becomes apparent that a rebellion against this plot rests on the shoulders of Queen Poppy (Kendrick) and her BFF, Branch (Timberlake). Together they make their way across the lands to eventually confront Barb and her nefarious quest to rule the world, something an 80’s Music troll (if there were one) would certainly have identified that everybody wants to do. I know how far I went for that joke but I stand by it. Well, sit technically. It would be awkward if I was standing and writing this in my own home, I think. But I digress. That is our basic plot and honestly I think this isn’t necessarily one of those films that is overtly responsible for convincing you to watch based on an exciting plot. Mind you, its not like Dreamworks is just going to slap together some nonsense and peddle it to you like they have no standard of quality. But children’s movies are a little unique in this way. It’s not that every film is automatically watchable as I’ve seen a number of prominent studios offer films I didn’t much care for in the end. But I don’t know that many people were on the fence on Trolls World Tour, and even if you were I’m not sure that there’s a formula for me to convince you through hinting at Christopher Nolan-esque plot twists you had no idea were awaiting you in this musically delicious sophomore entry in the Trolls-iverse. All that being said, I did quite enjoy the film and wholeheartedly recommend it.
We had almost all the original voices return as well as a number of well known newcomers to this iteration. Sam Rockwell plays “Hickory” from the Country Trolls and is accompanied by Kelly Clarkson as the queen of that land, Delta Dawn. Rachel Bloom voices our main antagonist Barb and has a cameo from the Ozzman himself, Ozzy Osbourne as her aging father, King Thrash. George Clinton and Mary J. Blige are the King and Queen of the Funk kingdom which plays a smaller secondary story line role in the film. Kenan Thompson joins the cast as the baby Hip Hop troll known as “Tiny Diamond”. While much of his role is capitalized on in the trailer, he does add some flair to a handful of scenes. And finally, because I would be remiss to exclude him from mention is Flula Borg, the German Techno DJ who surprisingly plays a Yodeling troll instead of a techno troll. Props if you know Flula on his own but he’s been an internet favorite of mine for probably close to a decade, if not more. This cast is well applied and the diversity of music really is enjoyable throughout the film. In the same way that Frozen 2 was always going to try and find its “Let It Go” version 2.0, Trolls World Tour was also in search of a new hit of similar caliber. While I don’t think they necessarily accomplished that goal, the music was all still quite fun to enjoy. And with a few fun nods like Chaz, the Smooth Jazz troll and the K-Pop v. Reggaeton trolls in the mix for a little added variety, it was balanced well I felt. There were some fun mash-ups of familiar tunes and some all new ones as well. I even appreciated some of the purposeful inclusion of what Branch deemed to be “sad” songs because life isn’t always happy. They aren’t there to be a downer, but I appreciated the reality of the message that life can sometimes be sad and it’s ok to appreciate that. While I don’t want to purposefully bring my kids to a downer movie and dash their hopes and dreams, I do think its healthy for them to understand that there’s a myriad of emotions for people to feel and this nod to that by way of Timberlake’s notation was sincerely appreciated. I felt like it really gave some depth to some of the underlying messages from the film.
That’s my transition into the last bit about the movie itself. The themes of this movie seemed pretty standard but well finessed through the music and dialogue. The importance of appreciating relationships was a big note through Poppy and Branch. The “everybody should be ok to be unique” didn’t feel too heavy handed like it had an agenda. I’m not necessarily militant for or against ideas like that so I don’t mean to make it a point of contention. But as a parent, it can be pretty recognizable many times if an animated film has some ulterior motives to their themes. Trolls really celebrated the idea that we are all different and that’s a good thing. I felt like it was woven into the story and expressed in a way that is safe and easy for kids to understand. Enforcing the idea of loving and respecting people even if they are different from you is a terrifically important one for upcoming generations. It always has been but it feels like in a divided world, its a positive message our kids can base more important decisions down the road on with a solid footing. So I liked all the bigger things the movie had to say beyond helping the viewer tap their toe and enjoy a pretty pleasant experience all the way through.
“Trolls really celebrated the idea that we are all different and that’s a good thing. I felt like it was woven into the story and expressed in a way that is safe and easy for kids to understand.”
That brings me to some of the interesting moving parts about this flick outside of just the content. While a handful of theatrical releases have been pushed out to “video on demand”, none of them have been major outings and none have them have really done terribly well. Most theatrical releases at this point have been pushed out to a much later date on the global calendar or in some cases they have negotiated their way to various streaming services. Where Trolls World Tour really breaks the mold is by forgoing an actual theatrical release and instead immediately going direct to video. From the casual bystander’s point of view this probably isn’t terribly significant. If you’ve been stuck at home for a month or better at this point, a $20 rental of a kid’s flick to keep the little ones occupied for a couple hours is potentially a godsend. Even if you don’t have kids, it might just be nice to have something new in your life regardless of it being an animated kid’s movie. I know some solo viewers would begrudge the $20 price point for a new rental. But if you’ve been to the theater in the last year with even one child, you know that it can get expensive rather quickly just for a jaunt to the local multiplex. Personally, I’m waiting on the figures from this “opening weekend” to find their way to the internet and I know I’m not alone in the curiosity of just how well the Trolls sequel will do. Many of the theater chains were quite vocal about their opposition to this endeavor on Universal’s part to push this to home screens without a stop at the traditional cinema. It directly cuts into their already bleeding pockets from this quarantine. And if this flick sets any kind of precedent, both in the short term with other studios deciding to follow suit and try and recuperate some of their revenue this summer or the long term where studios may lobby to change the standing agreement with theaters and get these releases to consumers in much shorter time frames and save considerable cash on a single marketing campaign instead of a theater run AND a home video blitz, it will remain to be seen. If Trolls does well, I think there’s many who, in lieu of current events, may decide to start picking some of their other titles to gamble on a home theatrical release. If the movement becomes fashionable as well as profitable, it very easily could alter the landscape for movie releases in the future.
At this point we are going to have to wait and see what it does. I’m still quite curious if there’s not a second round of Trolls rentals that staggers more in the next couple of weeks. Children are notorious for wanting to watch the same movie a number of times. And with a relatively manageable price tag on the rental, I definitely could see some people renting the film again as we are all stuck inside. Rainy day + bored children + exhausted list of DIY crafts and activities = Perfect recipe for a Trolls World Tour re-rent. Even with the expansive catalogs that many streaming services are offering these days, I think a Trolls second go around is not beyond possible or probable in many homes. I could be way off but something tells me I’m not. It’s all guesswork at this point. There is a big part of me that hopes it is successful and studios start corralling some of their other releases for video on demand. Otherwise this summer is going to be pretty bleak on the new movies front. We are a week or two away from exhausting the home video flicks based on what did make a theatrical run earlier in the year. And with most films that were slated all the way up until about August at this point being moved to later in the year or out to 2021, there’s a cinematic drought about to hit. Combine that with studios halting production on most projects as well, its going to take a little bit of doing to get the whole movie machine back on its legs come this fall. I definitely think it will rebound, like most other industries, but it will take time. Its an uncertain world out there right now and as a Cinemaster, I’m definitely hoping that normalcy in the cinematic world can return or evolve in the near future so that things can start to feel like they used to. But that’s just my opinion.
So to wrap all this up with a bright, glittery bow ala Queen Poppy’s many, many scrapbooks, Trolls World Tour is very much worth the $20 asking price for a 48 hour viewing window. That does allow for multiple viewings and if you have accounts like I do with Vudu, a service I HIGHLY recommend, you can share with several other family members in a single library of titles so one rental can span several households. I believe my rental of Trolls was viewed in Middletown, Prospect and even the Chicago Suburbs. So that’s always an option to spread the value as well. Its a tremendously fun film with plenty of musical talent and variety to keep the kids and parents engaged from beginning to end. Personally I’d give the overall value of the movie a B as it doesn’t quite land the same hits as the original did but it kept up well enough to really stay viable. Plus, even if it doesn’t seem like it, you’ll be on the cusp of movie history as this is the first time this has really ever been done. And amidst all the stories we will tell and our children will tell to those that come after us, the Coronavirus Quarantine of 2020 was a pioneer in the movie delivery industry. Your progeny will be sure to greet you with an “Oh grandpa, nobody cares about that!” You can refer them to this blog. Because I care. Probably too much. But what am I to do. With that, I’ve been your Cinemaster to the North, Adam Peterson and I’ll catch you on the flip side.