This is a serious question. I saw the Trolls movie a week or two ago, and I keep getting the urge to watch it again – one problem: I have no idea why! I’ve been asking myself all week, “Why do I like the Trolls movie?” And I don’t know the answer. I DON’T KNOW. (It’s sooo weird.)
If you’re new to this blog, you’re probably wondering why I’m freaking out about this. Well, the truth is that I’m a super-analytical dork, especially with writing-related stuff. So if I like something, I usually know why. In fact, I can generally break down why into a detailed article (and sometimes do). In this case, I find myself enjoying the movie, multiple times, without knowing why.
So What’s So Great About the Trolls Movie?
That’s the thing – it isn’t a great movie. No, I’m sorry, but it’s not. It has plot flaws. It has flat characters. It has odd/even creepy hidden messages (casually setting someone on fire, anyone?).
Honestly, it’s easier to think of reasons why I shouldn’t like it.
Why I Shouldn’t Like the Trolls Movie
At first glance, there is a lot of 2-dimensionality going on with this story. 2D characters (say, everybody except the main 4 characters…who only start to flesh out halfway through the film). Holes in the plot, unanswered questions, and logical fallacies (see bel0w).
There are also some seriously creepy and/or disturbing underlying messages being sent. The characters accept them, so we focus on the storyline and don’t really dig deeper. Once you start digging deeper, however, oh my.
Here are some specifics (if you don’t want spoilers, skip ALL the bullet points in the article, k?). These are in no particular order.
- Stereotypical Colors: Poppy is pink, and Branch is blue. Seriously? Did you have to go with such stereotypical boy-girl colors?
- Cheap Jokes: The butt pun, glitter farts, and every one-liner by a background character (usually Cooper) that shows zero understanding of the situation: that’s what we call cheap shots, folks.
- Genocide/Cannibalism: The primary concept of the story is that the Bergens trapped an entire race of PEOPLE and ate them once a year. We’re talking slow genocide here. Or treating a race of people like cattle – pretty disturbing, yeah?
- Sociopathic Actions: Cooper casually sets Chef on fire, doesn’t even look at what he’s done, and then smiles into the camera. WTH? That’s seriously disturbing right there. And I did not need visions of sociopathic trolls to help me not sleep.
- Voice Acting Ethnicities: Speaking of Cooper, did anyone pay attention to the distribution of ethnicities in the voice acting? Anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable with that? (Or worse?) Or am I being oversensitive?
- Breaking the 4th Wall Badly: Remember those cheap shots? Those one-liners where Cooper grins into the camera? That’s breaking the 4th wall, but the story isn’t getting anything out of it. Except a cheap joke.
- Dark & Disturbing: Children trolls playing by jumping in and out of steel traps. Oh, and what about the Bergen who is committing suicide by burying himself alive? That’s pretty dark and disturbing. “Here lies me.”
- Creepiness: Some of the hugging gets creepy. Like the horde advancing on Branch as he screams. What the other people say as they hug him, the glitter guy hugging himself, the creepy cloud joining a hug without being invited, etc. Hugs are great – unless they’re from someone you don’t want a hug from. Then, they’re creepy or frightening (or a type of assault… just sayin’).
So I could stop there and still have plenty of reasons to not like the movie, right? OR… I could go on and list every uncomfortable or less-than-amazingly written moment. And that’s not even including the broken promises.
There are lot of broken promises. Since this blog is about writing, I guess I should talk about some of those.
They set up rules for the world, but then they break them. Or kind of break them (actions that don’t entirely make sense with those rules).
Now, I know that suspension of disbelief is needed for movies, especially animated movies. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m pretty good about suspending my disbelief. Usually. Unless I’m slapped in the face by contradictions or questions. In this movie, I felt slapped in the face by them sometimes. Other times, they were like being poked in the shoulder (less distracting but still).
- The Chef reveals her plan to take over the kingdom, and then those plans are basically ignored. We get a little dramatic irony from time to time, but the captured trolls who heard it never even reveal it, let alone do anything about it. (Plus, if she’s going to feed the others all of the trolls that Trollstice, how does she plan to continue feeding them trolls?)
- Why did the Bergens only eat trolls once a year? They don’t seem that bright or good at self-control. It really doesn’t fit with the rest of their established background or character. And who would willingly be happy only once a year?
- The Bergens firmly believe they can’t be happy without eating a troll. Even after a troll talks to them and raises a little doubt in that theory, I don’t see them ignoring dozens of tasty snacks of happiness falling down around them. Does that seem believable to you? I mean, even if they think they might be able to be happy without eating trolls, they know that eating trolls makes them happy. And they’ve missed eating them for a long time. That’s like a dieting person watching their favorite dessert dance around in front of them in scores and having no urge to eat it (not gonna happen).
- Why do the Bergens have a roller rink or pizza if they don’t have fun? That totally confuses me and breaks from the groundwork and characterization.
- Think about all the dangers Poppy faces is less than a day. Can you see her father getting the entire race of trolls through those safely? There’s no way. Most of them would’ve been eaten before they ever found their new home.
- If trolls are so nice and loving, how come nobody took care of Branch or comforted him after his grandmother’s death? How come nobody knew? And why didn’t any of the other trolls whose relatives got eaten react similarly? Didn’t they care?
- If Bergens don’t know how to sing, then how did Bridgette learn? She knew how to sing before even meeting trolls. I’m cool with the idea that she’s an anomaly, but if the main idea behind the climax is that any of the Bergens can be happy, wouldn’t there be a subgroup that found it on their own? Like an underground society of secretly happy Bergen?
There are plenty more, but that’s more than enough for our purposes. And more than enough to turn someone off the move. Yet I keep wanting to watch it. It’s baffling.
Why I Should Like the Trolls Movie
There are some obvious answers:
- The music: it’s upbeat and fun (mostly), and it’s integrated very well with the story.
- The main characters: Poppy, Branch, Bridgette, and Gristle are fun, likable characters. They have depth (eventually), and they aren’t obvious for the most part (or at least, not as obvious as the other characters).
- The plot: It’s not entirely unpredictable, but it doesn’t go where you’d immediately expect it to go. There are some nice twists and turns.
- The foreshadowing and irony: “Someday, when the Bergens find us, and the survival of every troll is in your hands, I sure hope the answer is singing, dancing, and hugging ’cause that’s all you know how to do!” Foreshadowing and dramatic irony in one. Nice.
- Some dialogue: There is a witty, sarcastic trend to some of the dialogue that is fun. I say “some” because it’s mostly the dialogue of the main characters and not the background trolls: “A man’s bib.”
- My dark, twisted sense of humor: So a lot of that dark, twisted stuff that makes the movie creepy if you think about it also makes the movie funny if you don’t think about it (assuming you’re a bit wrong already).
- The fuzziness: Ok, no, I don’t have a thing for fuzz. But textures have long been one of the biggest challenges of animation. To do an entire movie that’s mostly the texture of felt? With all that hair? Not the easiest thing in the world. So that’s impressive.
- The frog rooster: What? It’s funny!
- The main message: Happiness is inside all of us, and sometimes, we need help finding it. I think that’s a good message (a bit more useful than “love conquers all” and less irritating than “Happiness is a choice.”).
Then, there are the not-so-obvious answers. The ones I had to think about.
- Characters like Smidge who break some stereotypes for gender colors, styles, and sounds.
- The fact that the prologue/history is actually told from Poppy’s perspective (and scrapbook). I didn’t really think about it at first, but having it told from her point of view instead of a narrator’s makes all the difference in the world. If Poppy’s telling it, it can be prejudiced or flawed. So some of those broken promises can be resolved by the fact that the story as Poppy knows it being incomplete or slanted.
- The way the flatness of the characters acts as a strange kind of characterization (Fiyero might call it “deeply shallow.”). Having few or no thoughts beyond singing/dancing/hugging/fun is established as a troll trait. So by being oblivious to a lot of what’s going on, the trolls are actually following the established characterization. The only problem with this is the fact that Poppy and Branch are pretty smart – when they choose to think. Maybe, it’s like Legally Blonde and doing what’s expected (I haven’t quite resolved this thought…).
- The group’s mockery of Branch, King Peppy’s command to flee, and Creek’s betrayal. The fact that the trolls can be flawed and selfish makes them more human and interesting despite their otherwise shallow mentality.
I think it’s these contradictions that’s giving me trouble analyzing my response – the very flatness of the characters is their rounding (if that makes sense to anyone), the lines are alternately witty or almost annoyingly oblivious, and the humor is spot on or disturbingly creepy.
What can I say? It’s a movie of contrasts. And I’m listening to it in the background as I write.