2020’s been one series of surprises after another. You’d run out of fingers trying to list all of the unexpected events and I’m here to present you with another: Trolls World Tour is a near-perfect exploration of cultural appropriation and how to react when challenged with transgressions of your ancestors. Were you expecting that? 2020 is the year of the murder hornet, so, perhaps anything really is possible, but I doubt your Bingo card included a Trolls film. Yet here we are and it is truly confounding in the most positive, warm-hugging, high-fiving, responsibility-taking way. With Trolls World Tour now out on home video, you’ve got the best seat anywhere in your house to go on this crazy journey into the history of Trolldom.
Since the end of 2016’s Trolls, Queen Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick), Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake), and the rest of Trolls Village live in their usual harmony now that they no longer worry about the Bergens hunting them down for food. Every day is a constant flow of dancing, singing, hugging, and art creation. All that is threatened to come to an end when an invitation arrives from Queen Barb (voiced by Rachel Bloom) of the Rock Trolls, requesting Poppy’s attendance to a concert that will unite all the Trolls under one sound: Rock ’n’ Roll. Unaware that there are other Trolls, let alone five other kinds — Funk, Country, Techno, Classical and Rock — with theirs, Pop, being the sixth, Poppy, not one to let a little thing like the threat of total Troll annihilation stop her from making friends, sets out to find the other Trolls. But her journey to save her people unearths secrets that threaten to destroy them all.
What follows is going to be a spoiler-filled review of Trolls World Tour. If you’re interested in the bonus features without the analysis, jump past the photo of Tiny Diamond (voiced by Kenan Thompson) to read about what’s included on the home release.
Because World Tour is a sequel, let’s get the comparison business out of the way: it’s not that Trolls (2016) is better than World Tour, it’s that Trolls is a lighter more popcorny affair with catchy songs and incredible whimsy. World Tour tackles more mature content as it explores a variety of musical genres and how they intersect by way of examination appropriation and domination. As mentioned, the Trolls we met in the original outing were unaware that there were other Trolls out in the world. This does call into question just how large this world is considering that it took some days to travel from their village to Bergen Town, but Poppy & company take a balloon trip to visit each of the various Troll Kingdoms, so maybe it’s larger than it seems. This strange geographic concern aside, World Tour quickly positions Poppy as the hero of the story, which makes sense given the character’s strong inclination to remedy any form of conflict. This was her plan in Trolls, so it makes sense that she would reapply the same logic when faced with a new foe in Barb. Not only that, but Poppy is armed with the notion that they should all get along because “we’re all the same.” This is an innocent sounding phrase and it’s one that’s well-intentioned coming from the always optimistic Poppy, but the narrative from the quintet of writers (Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Elizabeth Tippet) slowly reveals just how closely the notion of “sameness” is to “erasure.” Much in the way Barb wants to conquer all the Troll Kingdoms under her banner, Poppy wants to amplify the idea that they are all without difference. Each queen carries an ideal of what it means to be a Troll that places them all in harm’s way because it implies that only they know what defines a Troll. Bringing this notion into fuller view, Poppy is shown again and again as refusing to listen to her friends when they challenge her notions. She is so certain in her belief of “We Are One” that she doesn’t realize, until almost too late, that her perception is just as damaging as Barb’s forced homogeny.
For Poppy, things get even worse when she learns that it’s her people, known as the Pop Trolls, who first tried to unify all of Trolldom under their music. As explained in the film, Pop Trolls took everything from the other genres, mixed it, remixed it, sampled it, and then claimed it all as their own. That’s right, the film flat-out recontextualizes how the audience bounced to the rhythm of “Trolls Wanna Have Good Times” that reintroduced the Pop Kingdom characters. Is it a fun remix? Sure. But that’s all cultural appropriation. Think back to the use of “Trolls 2 Many Hits Mashup,” a song used by Poppy to try to get the Country Kingdom on their side. It wasn’t amusing to the Country Trolls because they don’t like the music they perform; however, with the additional historical context, the performance can also be perceived as an aggressor is coming in and performing music stolen by others. It’s no wonder Country Troll leader Delta Dawn (voiced by Kelly Clarkson) throws them in jail. Poppy isn’t just another threat to her land like Barb, Poppy is another Barb. There is a way to position the Pop Kingdom as the heroes, the pinnacle example of how a variety of genres can live in harmony. Except that isn’t what Pop is, especially not as presented in the Trolls films. Pop music is their language and it borrows from all genres to be created, which is why when the leaders of Funk Kingdom, King Quincy (voiced by George Clinton), Queen Essence (voiced by Mary J. Blige), and their son Prince D (voiced by Anderson .Paak), educate Poppy on the truth of the original discord between Troll Kingdoms, it’s so very important that Poppy takes ownership of it. She doesn’t argue, declare that it happened in a time before now, or even attempt to massage the past to fit her current world view. In short, she doesn’t “All Troll Lives Matter” the concerns of the Funk Kingdom or deny her unknown cultural history. Poppy owns it and uses it as evidence that Barb’s mission of unity is bound for greater turmoil. It’s not being the same that makes Trolls great, it’s their individuality. The uniqueness of each Troll shines a greater light on the whole more than any kind of shared love for just one music. It’s a lesson not so subtly placed within the narrative and it’s one desperately needed for the next generation to understand.
World Tour is incredibly heart-warming knowing that musicians old (Ozzy Osbourne as the voice of King Thrash) and young (Anthony Ramos as the voice of King Trollex) and from a variety of musical genres are taking part. That said, it’s nearly impossible to avoid considering one aspect of the film that stands out against the beating heart of the narrative: Justin Timberlake. As a musician, Timberlake is widely seen as the heir to the throne of King of Pop, but he himself has a troubled past with appropriation. Especially outside of N’Sync, Timberlake tends to lean more toward the Rhythm & Blues genre and has worked with a great many talented artists within the Black community. Yet, for some reason he was allowed to continue working after the 2004 Super Bowl incident with Janet Jackson whereas she was blacklisted. Is he allowed to create a career making the kinds of music that moves him? Absolutely. It’s just important to recognize that the songs are his, the beats, however, did not originate with him. As much fun as the character of Branch is as a foil for Poppy, World Tour becomes a little tone-deaf when one of the leads of the film is more guilty than the Pop Trolls.
Don’t think for a second that I’m coming down on the film. While not as much fun as Trolls, World Tour is just as clever with its sight-gags and is as inspired with its production design. The textures of everything from living creatures to the ground upon which they tread is brilliantly crafted to appear both handmade and absolutely alive. It’s because of the commitment to the absurd that the little things about the film — like the Pop Trolls being the only ones to receive an invitation from Barb whereas the “World Tour” in the title comes from her attacking other kingdoms — can get a pass because it’s the same universe in which Guy Diamond’s (voiced by Kunal Nayyar) hair gave birth to Tiny Diamond. In all of Trolldom, what makes sense is the least likely to be considered and it works for them.
If you didn’t watch Trolls World Tour when it dropped on Premium VOD April 10th or if you did and want to know what comes with the full purchase, you’re in for a lot. In addition to the regular “theatrical” edition, you get “Dance Party Mode” that encourages the [insert word about sitting in a chair for long periods] to get up, sing, and dance. Chances are that those most likely to purchase World Tour are those with young ones, so what better way to experience the film than by interacting with it. Not sure how to execute those dance steps? Head over to “Trolls Dance Academy” where you can learn all six dance styles you’ll need to keep pace with characters you meet. Love the music? Check out the six music videos that offer lyrics versions, album versions, and a more traditional music video experience for a few of your favorite tracks. Want to learn more about the experience of making the film? You can choose from either the four-minute featurette “Trolls Perfect Harmony” or the nine-minute “Trolls World Tour Backstage” to gain insight into the making of World Tour from the huge collection of talent that makes up the cast. If that doesn’t seem like enough content to keep you busy for a while, there’re nearly 20 minutes of deleted scenes and a brand new three-minute short featuring Tiny Diamond.
**By the way, if you rented Trolls World Tour via iTunes from 4/10/2020 through 6/15/2020, you may be entitled to a credit if you now purchase the film through iTunes. Head to the official Trolls World Tour iTunes page for the full details.**
Trolls World Tour is likely the biggest surprise of 2020 due to the sheer challenge and timing of the message within it and how well the cast and crew manage to land it. World Tour didn’t have to come so hard in its follow-up. It could’ve ridden the wave of goodwill and given audiences more feel-good entertainment. Instead, it decided to take a sledgehammer to the status quo. In the words of King Thrash himself, if this is the way things are headed for future films, ALL ABOARD!
Troll World Tour Bonus Features:
- Dance Party Mode – As Queen Poppy makes her way across the lands, this on-screen experience encourages the viewer to sing and dance along as they customize their own musical journey. With sing-along and dance elements, interactive pop ups and more, it’s sure to be a world of fun!
- Feature Commentary (1:30:44) – Commentary from director Walt Dohrn, producer Gina Shay, and co-director David P. Smith.
- Tiny Diamond Goes Back to School (3:47) – In this exclusive original short film, journey back to school with Tiny Diamond as he tries to figure out how to be the cool kid and ‘fit in’.
- Trolls Perfect Harmony (4:29) – Hear from the star-studded cast of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Anderson .Paak, George Clinton, Kunal Nayyar, James Corden and the filmmakers about the history of music featured in the film. From classical to country to rock, pop and techno, the cast and filmmakers reveal their favorite types of music.
- Trolls World Tourist Map (5:41) – Cloud Guy provides a quick “tourist guide’s” view of the six realms that make up Trolls Kingdom.
- Trolls Dance Academy (7:28) – Compilation of How-To-Dance pieces from Dance Party Mode (six styles).
- Trolls World Tour Backstage (9:06) – A behind-the-scenes making of featurette showcases Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, Ron Funches, George Clinton, Mary J. Blige, Sam Rockwell and Kenan Thompson as some of the talent behind the Trolls and the process of bringing the them to life.
- Seven (7) Deleted Scenes (19:47)
- Six (6) Music Videos
Available on digital beginning June 23rd, 2020.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD beginning July 7th, 2020.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.