The original movie “Trolls” in 2016 was about the unique privilege of being a troll – kaleidoscopically colorful lives, relentless joy, hugs every hour. Chipper, loopy songs dotted the film, which featured pop music, and Pop Trolldom, as blameless (albeit somewhat oblivious) sources of joy.
What horror is behind it, however? In “Trolls World Tour”, released last week, Poppy, queen of the Pop Trolls, discovers that her tribe is not the only one and that the Rock Trolls intend to conquer them all, a residual effect of a time when the Pop Trolls were, in fact, invaders. The real lesson of the film? This privilege of a Troll never comes without the suffering of another Troll.
And yet, in a movie starring musical megastars like Justin Timberlake, George Clinton, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, J Balvin, Ozzy Osbourne and Gustavo Dudamel, it’s, in a way, the awesome, sometimes squeaky. funk-soul singer-rapper Anderson. .Paak who is responsible for the bulk of the socio-political work.
It voices Prince D – a Funk Troll, but truly a Hip-Hop Troll – who interrupts Poppy (played by Anna Kendrick as a walking embodiment of Troll Privilege) in her quest to save Troll Kingdom from The Rock’s evil and rhythm-deficient intentions. Trolls, led by Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom). Prince D presents him with a brief lesson in the history of appropriation titled “It’s All Love (History of Funk)”: from the stage.
It turns out that all of that Pop Troll joy was built on the subjugation of other Musical Trolls. The Truth: Pop absorbed everything that made each of the other styles great and watered it down! Pop wrote the history books – an album, in this universe – suggesting that it wasn’t, in fact, the abuser!
For 6-year-olds who sang with Poppy and Branch (a lukewarm Timberlake) last time around, this could be a unsettling twist. But that’s exactly the kind of conversation that has been de rigueur in music criticism over the past two decades, especially when compounded by the film’s other plot, the looming imperialism of the Rock Trolls.
This is the central battle of the film: the poptimists against the rockists. (Or, in non-critical terms, the idea that pop music has real cultural value versus the belief that rock determines the framework through which popular music must be analyzed.) But in “Trolls World Tour”, which reads like a position paper. written by someone extremely, perhaps unreasonably frustrated with how the dark side of pop history was erased by the first film, both sides are flawed.
There are, in fact, six Troll tribes – Pop, Funk, Country, Techno, Classical, and Rock – that do not overlap (aside from Cooper, a Funk Troll raised by Pop Trolls). The Country Trolls – led by Delta Dawn, voiced by an almost embarrassing Kelly Clarkson – are tough and protectionist, just like in real life. Classical and techno, however, deserve little narrative exposure. There are characters representing reggaeton (played by J Balvin) and K-pop (played by girl group Red Velvet) as bounty hunters living between tribes, although these are prone to dancing.
As for pop, the genre is presented as a tonally narrow emotional ethic. “We love music with a hummable hook, with a catchy melody, with a catchy beat that makes you want to snap fingers, tap toes and wiggle your butt,” says the King of Pop Troll. This is, of course, a very specific and narrow definition that doesn’t sound much like the pop landscape in 2020 – no Post Malone-style miserability, Drake-style sing-esque rap, or glittery-type angst. Weeknd.
In this pluralistic realm, rock is a convenient villain – its Trolls dress in shades of gray and black and prefer spiked clothing and vehicles; his chords come out of the guitars like blades; and it is also old fashioned. The Rock Trolls present themselves as a tribe of former injured parties, eager to restore their draconian dullness. They’re cool villains, too: maybe the next generation of troublemaking kids will turn to rock for inspiration. Cue a resurgence of heavy metal around 2030.
Although rock and pop disagree in “Trolls World Tour,” the film suggests that their impulses are basically the same: to colonize and absorb others. Opposing pop to hip-hop or funk would have unwanted racial connotations.
And so all the wisdom comes from the Funk Trolls, whose King and Queen are played by Blige and Clinton, legends of black music. Even though Poppy ultimately foils the Rock Trolls’ plan to zombify the rocks of all troll nations, it is only with the wisdom she gleans from the Funk Trolls that she sets out on this path.
In the first “Trolls”, most of the raps came from the character of Zooey Deschanel, a big mistake corrected here with Anderson’s Prince D .Paak, and also Tiny Diamond (Kenan Thompson). There is also another nod to the generative power of hip-hop. In the climactic scene (spoiler alert), in which Poppy saves everyone from the clutches of rock, the thing that begins to bring life, color and music back to all Trolls is Cooper’s heartbeat, followed by Prince D’s beatbox. Pop gets the glory, but hip-hop is the foundation. Business as usual.