Wanna feel old? The Trolls franchise is seven this year and brings with it a whole culture of nostalgia for the late ’90s and early ’00s that to anyone under 40 will seem like a million years ago. The rest of us might remember it as yesterday; a moment in time when boy bands sprang up at the rate of one a week, offering different permutations of The Wild One, The Sensitive One, The Sultry One, The Cute One and, inevitably, The Most Famous One That Left and Threw the Whole Project Into Crisis.
Trolls Band Together takes all this as its central thesis, which is a relief after its two hectic predecessors, the first being an origins story, in which the trolls — the psychedelic lovechildren of gonks and Smurfs — must save themselves from being eaten by buck-toothed creatures called Bergens. The Bergens didn’t feature much in Trolls World Tour, which instead extended the musical world to encompass Hard Rock trolls, Techno trolls, Funk trolls, Classical, Country and even Smooth Jazz trolls.
More from Deadline
The third film is all about the Pop trolls, and the five members of BroZone, a five-piece vocal outfit about to perform their last gig, not that they know it. The pressure is on to deliver “perfect family harmony.” a musical phenomenon that can shatter diamonds. BroZone is at the height of its fame, with songs like “Girl, Baby, Baby” and “Baby, Girl, Girl,” an accurate summation of the time.
Failure is not an option: “If we aren’t perfect, we’re nothing,” says the band’s unofficial leader John Dory (Eric André). Instead, the show is a disaster, as Branch (Justin Timberlake), the baby of the bunch, puts a foot wrong and sets in motion a domino effect that humiliates the whole band in front of their loyal fans. John Dory decides to call it a day with the film’s best joke: “We’re not in synch, we’ve gone from boys to men, and now there’s only one direction. It’s time to hit the backstreets.”
Time passes, and while Branch is at the wedding of Bergen monarch King Gristle Jr. with his girlfriend Poppy (Anna Kendrick), John Dory arrives with shocking news: their BroZone bro Floyd (Troye Sivan) is being held captive by overnight pop sensations Velvet and Veneer (Amy Schumer and Andrew Rannells), a brother-and-sister duo taking the Milli Vanilli route to stardom. But what John Dory doesn’t realize is that this is a trap, and that as he sets out to reunite BroZone, Velvet and Veneer are rubbing their hands with glee: Using a smoothie-maker invented by their assistant Crimp (Zosia Mamet), they intend to drain the trolls of all their talent.
Like the new Chicken Run movie, Trolls Band Together is a reverse heist movie, but, ironically, that’s not really the focus; unusually for a Trolls movie, there’s a less frenetic pace here, as Elizabeth Tippet’s surprisingly thoughtful script explores where the members of BroZone are at now. As John Dory, Branch and Poppy get the band back together, taking to the road on a customized armadillo tour bus, they find that Spruce is now Bruce, a committed family man running a seaside resort with his wife and kids on Vacay Island, while “Fun Boy” Clay is now “Serious Boy” Clay, earning a living as an accountant, sleeping in the admin wing of a disused crazy-golf course.
As soon as it is revealed that Floyd is being held in a perfume bottle made of diamond, it’s pretty obvious where this is all going to go. But director Walt Dohrn makes the wait worthwhile, and while the visuals are a lot, especially whenever someone presses the mysterious button marked “Hustle” on the tour bus — think of the Simpsons episode where Bart and Milhaus take an LSD-style trip after drinking an all-syrup super-squishee — the sensory overload is leavened by a genuinely interesting approach to the music. *NSYNC’s comeback song “Better Place” is pleasant enough, but Timberlake’s “Perfect” has a more fitting retro-modern sound, and Velvet and Veneer’s signature song “Watch Me Work” reaches some lovely levels of irony, with lyrics that say, “If you want to be as famous as me, you’ve gotta work.” There’s also some sense to the needle-drops, which pitch New Edition (“Candy Girl”) and even The Bee-Gees (“Staying Alive”) as early pioneers of the boy-band sound.
Whether there’ll be a fourth is anyone’s guess, since Trolls Band Together must surely exorcize every ghost from Timberlake’s past, and it will be hard to top the cameo from his former bandmates. But the Trolls franchise has an anarchic playfulness and a robust ensemble cast — a winning, DayGlo formula that suggests there may be mileage in it yet, should the most famous one ever decide to leave.
Title: Trolls Band Together
Release date: November 17, 2023
Director: Walt Dohrn
Co-director: Tim Heitz
Screenwriter: Elizabeth Tippet
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Camila Cabello, Eric André, Amy Schumer, Andrew Rannells, Troye Sivan, Daveed Diggs, Kid Cudi, Zosia Mamet, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, RuPaul Charles, Aino Jawo, Caroline Hjelt, Kenan Thompson, Anderson .Paak, Kunal Nayyar, Ron Funches
Running time: 1 hr 32 min