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Trolls World Tour Review: A Victim Of Circumstance

Look, it's not Trolls World Tour's fault.

Let's face it: Trolls World Tour is supposed to be brightly-colored fluff. Tap your foot to the music, enjoy the bright, kinetic visuals, and send the kids home happy.

Unfortunately, thanks to outside circumstances, Trolls World Tour has become much more than that. In March, Universal announced that Trolls World Tour would be the first major film of the year to hit video-on-demand services the same day as its (intended) worldwide theatrical release. For $20, you can watch a new Hollywood blockbuster at home even while it's still playing in theaters (or would be, if theaters were open).

That's made Trolls World Tour the center of attention. According to some analysts, Trolls could completely upend the traditional Hollywood business model. At the very least, it's the first brand new major blockbuster to hit the United States in over a month.

That's a lot of pressure, and Trolls World Tour can't handle the burden. Again, not its fault. Trolls World Tour was supposed to be providing a kid-friendly alternative to older-skewing crowd-pleasers like New Mutants and No Time to Die. It was supposed to be a lark for families to check out after hunting eggs on Easter morning. It's not designed to be a cure-all our current anxieties. It's not built to usher in a new era of film distribution. It's a slight, inoffensive kids film. That's it.

Technically, Trolls World Tour has a story. Sometime after the events of 2016's Trolls, Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick) learns that her Troll clan is just one of six tribes scattered around the world, each of which represents a different genre of music. Unfortunately, Queen Barb (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom), leader of the Hard Rock Trolls, is using the power of rock and roll to steal the other tribes' magic strings, robbing them of their unique identities, their music, and their free will.

Naturally, it's up to Poppy and her long-suffering friend Branch (Justin Timberlake) to stop Barb and preserve musical diversity. Along the way, they team up with Country Trolls and Funk Trolls, fend off attacks from Jazz Trolls and Yodel Trolls, and ultimately bring the entire Troll community together through the power of song.

It's mostly nonsense, and for the bulk of Trolls World Tour's running time, the story feels like an afterthought. Other than a couple of minor twists (including one that's a pretty clever riff on pop music's tendency to cannibalize other genres) and the expected lesson about how our differences actually make us all stronger, there's not much to it.

It doesn't matter. The point of Trolls World Tour is to entertain with high-energy musical numbers, not to touch the soul with drama. Trolls is like that scene in Dumbo when the title character gets drunk and begins hallucinating dancing elephants — if that sequence was stretched out for an entire movie. It's a sensory experience, not a narrative one. Logic never gets in the way of a cool visual, a catchy hook, or a funny beat, and while the kaleidoscopic swirl of music and color and motion can get overwhelming, it can also be kind of fun.

Trolls World Tour is a treat for the eyes, but lacks depth for adults

Trolls World Tour is genuinely good at what it does. The character designs oscillate between charming (our two leads), funny (the Smooth Jazz Troll, with his twirling moustache and ample supply of chest hair), and downright odd (the Country Trolls, who resemble centaurs), but they're never boring. The animation is smooth and impeccably timed to the pulsing soundtrack.

The environments are, maybe, the coolest thing about Trolls World Tour. Each one looks like it's been hand-made in someone's crafting room. The Pop Trolls' kingdom, for example, is made out of felt and yarn. The Rock Trolls' domain is all denim and leather. The sand in a barren desert is made up of gold glitter that sparkles under the bright sun. Whether or not you like the music is going to be a matter of taste (and you won't find anything here you haven't heard on the radio a thousand times), but at least the multi-genre set-up means there's some variety.

The thing is, that's all that Trolls World Tour does. It's fun to look at, but the sensory assault gets old pretty quick without a story to prop it up. It's a film that was designed for the theater, where spectacle works better. As it is, if you're an adult — or even an older child — don't expect to stay glued to your couch for the whole movie. The jokes are never offensively bad, but they're not going to elicit more than a small smile. There are small efforts at delivering actual emotional payoffs, but the whole premise is so slight — Poppy's big lesson is that she needs to be a better listener, which isn't exactly a groundbreaking personal transformation — that the character beats don't really resonate. Pixar, this ain't.

But Trolls World Tour isn't for adults. It's for kids. It's easy to imagine small children finding the movie's hypnotic visuals and non-stop energy utterly entrancing. If you have little ones who've been cooped up at home for weeks, Trolls World Tour really might give them a much-needed respite.

Really, that's all you can ask of it. Trolls World Tour won't move the needle for simultaneous day-and-date releases on VOD services in either direction. If you're an adult who's craving something new to watch, you'll be better served hunting for deep-buried gems on Netflix or other streaming services. 

Trolls World Tour has modest goals, and for the most part, it meets them. Trolls World Tour is not a watershed moment in movie history. It's a distraction for the five-and-under crowd. Judge Trolls World Tour on its own merits and it does just fine. Ask it to do anything else, and it simply isn't up to the task.