Trolls, to get kids in the door, is based on that range of Danish dolls with the furry upcombed hair. Don’t look to this DreamWorks animation for home decoration tips, as there’s barely a colour in it that wouldn’t drive you instantly insane.
The protagonists’ skin tone ranges from aggressive pink to bubblegum blue, and the prologue is a series of threats about how much of the time they’re going to spend singing and hugging each other.
More unexpected, perhaps, is the theme of genocidal cannibalism that swiftly intrudes.
A bigger, less happy race of ogre-like creatures called the Bergens throw an annual meat feast in which they gobble up as many trolls as they can. We don’t hate the Bergens at all. They’re Shrek-like and unprepossessing. If anything, we’re on their side.
Troll terror and Bergen tummy rumblings drive the plot, such as it is, but let’s get to the point: the experience of seeing Trolls is less like watching a film, more like knocking back sticky rum cocktails on a relentless karaoke night with Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake.
The latter serves as producer, music producer and male vocal lead; the former voices the troll heroine, Poppy, a happy-go-lucky sort who bounces around performing medley covers of early-2000s disco tracks.
Whoever decided the solution here was to round up collective fans of Mamma Mia!, Pitch Perfect and Glee and hold them to ransom was certainly on to something.
The closer Trolls gets to an out-and-out jukebox musical, the better it works. Repurposing Lionel Richie’s Hello for a Cinderella-like Bergen scullery maid (Zooey Deschanel) is exactly what we want. So is the flashback when Timberlake’s Branch – a paranoid killjoy with grey skin – relates the traumatic munching of his grandma, largely caused by his own cheesy rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart.
Over and done with in a brisk 92 minutes, Trolls is almost winkingly disposable, and that, too, is part of its charm.
There’s a passing touch of Labyrinth, after a standout sequence of Lewis-Carroll-lite peril when Poppy braves the horrors of this dayglo wilderness alone.
The 3D animation isn’t going to set any new industry standards, and there’s nothing here that would keep Pixar’s story experts sweating with jealousy in the small hours. But for a comedy about a tribe of manic homunculi with nylon faux-hawks, it’s really got to be counted a pleasant surprise.
- Trolls is showing at: Boardwalk, Walmer Park, Hemingways, Bridge and Baywest.