Saturday, May 2, 2020

Emily and Eliza on: The best part of Trolls World Tour

Emily and Eliza

The answer to that question may depend on how deeply you wish to dig into Trolls lore. Where the first movie posited a relatively simple metaphor for systemic oppression, with the colorful, tiny Trolls terrified of the consumerist Bergens, Trolls World Tour sets up a complicated Troll society, composed of six different tribes, each representing a certain kind of music. At some point in the past, the Trolls were united in harmony. But a fractious war over which style of music was the “true” music tore them asunder. Now, they live in separate lands, rarely meeting or cross-pollinating.

(Also, there are four sub-tribes of “bounty hunter” trolls, and it’s hard to glean why, for instance, the K-Pop Trolls are bounty hunters when the Pop Trolls are a full tribe, but that’s Western hegemony for you.)
Is Trolls World Tour — the sequel to the 2016 musical extravatastrophe Trolls and the first major studio movie to be released in homes instead of theaters during the coronavirus-prompted global shutdown — better than its predecessor?

It is debatable that I needed this level of knowledge about Troll society, but I’ll give Trolls World Tour this: Having so many places to visit during a slim 90-minute running time keeps the story moving and presumably introduces kids to a wide variety of musical genres. What’s more, the movie’s use of the famous rockists versus poptimists debate of the mid-2010s to stand in for all of our arguments about prejudice and oppression in society is almost clever, or at least more clever than the first film’s attempts to tell a story about consumerist capitalism in a movie based on dolls you could buy at a nearby Target the second you walked out of the theater.

But what do I know about Trolls World Tour? Not a lot! Though I am the critic-at-large for Vox, I’m also an adult and a bit of a grump. To truly appreciate the film, I had to find someone who really enjoyed it.

Emily: What’s fascinating to me about Trolls World Tour is the way it tries to engage with questions about systemic power imbalances on both personal and societal levels. Queen Poppy, the pink, musical troll voiced by Anna Kendrick, benefits from her royal status and her sunny optimism, to be sure. But she also benefits from the way that people just seem to see her as the center of the story. She exists in a bubble of privilege she doesn’t wholly understand until it is threatened by the Rock Troll Barb (a weirdly miscast Rachel Bloom).

Even more fascinating is how Trolls World Tour positions Poppy and Barb as foils, without Poppy realizing that Barb is a foe, not a friend. Barb longs to eliminate all music other than rock (just like a rockist!), while Poppy would never say she wanted to do that in the name of pop (it wouldn’t be the poptimist way). Yet Poppy is also uncomfortable with the idea that her friends have personal agency and won’t just do what she says, a stance that nearly breaks every relationship she has until she sees herself reflected in Barb’s megalomania.

Trolls World Tour also does a somewhat effective job of tying the concept of personal power to an idea of societal power. Like Frozen 2 before it, the movie offers a moment when Poppy understands that her power came from the brutal subjugation of others’ power, when the Pop Trolls took over all other musical genres. The result is a movie about wrestling with the messy cultural legacies of colonialism and genocide that also features several medleys of catchy pop hits.