When the first Trolls movie came out in 2016, it surprised by being more than just the money grab one would expect of a property based on a popular toy. The filmmakers actually seemed to care about the story, and their use of music was integrated well into the plot instead of existing as an artificial mood-setter.
The sequel, Trolls World Tour, seems to forget what made the previous movie successful, focusing on one element to the detriment of almost all others. This time, the happiness that Poppy (Anna Kendrick), Branch (Justin Timberlake), and the rest of the Trolls found is threatened when another group of Trolls tries to steal their very essence.
In a slightly confounding twist, it turns out that the Trolls world is made up of multiple distinct areas, each dedicated to a certain type of music. Poppy and Branch are in the pop area, while Barb (Rachel Bloom) heads up the rock area. Barb has made it her mission to steal the music strings from each other area so that rock will be the only music played in the world of the Trolls.
The actual details of the plot get a bit deeper than that, but only slightly. The conflict that existed between the Trolls and the Bergens in the first film is replaced by a watered-down fight that makes little sense. Worse, the story merely feels like an excuse for the filmmakers to throw in as many music cues as they can, replacing any actual emotions with false ones created by the songs.
There are not one but two music medleys, shoving as many recognizable songs as possible into a short period of time. One of the best moments of the first film, a slowed-down but otherwise unaltered version of Cyndi Lauper’s "True Colors," is replaced here by a pointless version of Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” with lyrics changed for the Trolls world. There is also nothing that approaches the sheer fun of the first film’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”
The different areas of the Trolls world, which also include country, classical, and funk, have the potential for fun but mostly disappoint. Arguably the third biggest name in the film is Kelly Clarkson, who plays Delta Dawn, the leader of the country area. But she’s given almost nothing to do, and even Clarkson’s big song doesn’t make good use of her talents. It’s cool to know that people like Anderson .Paak, Mary J. Blige, George Clinton, and Ozzy Osbourne lent their voices to new characters, but they collectively make little impact on the film as a whole.
Trolls World Tour, the first big movie to debut on streaming and on-demand platforms during the coronavirus pandemic, is sure to be a hit for parents desperately looking for something new for their kids to watch. But it’s nowhere near the quality of the first film, with fleeting fun attached to mostly forgettable songs.