No matter how you dress, comb, braid, or style them, troll dolls are darn cute and have been since they were invented by Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam in the late 1950s. Dreamworks Animation knew what they were doing when they bought the IP and toy line from the Dam family in 2013 and supercharged it into a cinematic Trolls franchise in 2016. Few corporate wins have ever been easier to achieve. Let’s face it, though. To make Trolls a hit, Dreamworks needed more than sculpted butts, bejeweled belly buttons, and spiky hair. Their answer was perfect: music.
The boost wasn’t solely dialing up jukebox musical movies, though. It was hitching their wagon to the right stewarding talent, namely Justin Timberlake as the executive producer of music. With Timberlake came his willingness to join the voice acting cast, massive multi-genre musical range, his star-studded Rolodex of potential collaborators, and generational crossover appeal that moved all the needles. Now on its third movie, titled Trolls Band Together and an official selection of the Animation Is Film Festival 2023, the franchise has been the complete pop culture windfall it was planned to be and shows no signs of slowing down.
If anything, Trolls keeps growing and evolving with its audience. For many, the second film—Trolls World Tour landing during the COVID pandemic—felt like a step down from the original, cutting off more fabric than it could sew by curating a harmonic throwdown of all music genres. Rest assured, Timberlake and the returning Trolls Band Together artists picked the right, single bolt of musical material this time around… boy bands!
Virtually ignoring the first sequel, Trolls Band Together reveals in the opening scenes– including the wedding of the friendly Bergens Bridget and King Gristle Jr. (Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Zooey Deschanel, mostly working the sidelines)—that our central hero Branch (Timberlake) was once the baby brother member of the long broken-up troll boy band BroZone, a revelation that shocks his girlfriend Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick). This secret comes out when his oldest brother of four, John Dory (comedy creator Eric André), arrives to enlist Branch for a rescue mission that requires reuniting BroZone.
As it turns out, one of the BroZone brothers, Floyd (Australian pop star and actor Troye Sivan), has been taken captive by Velvet and Veneer (comedienne Amy Schumer and Broadway star Andrew Rannells), a brother-and-sister duo of gummy plastic pop star pretenders. The two extract the inner soulful energy of Floyd to bolster their own voices and cover up their lacking talent. The one known thing that can break Floyd’s diamond prison is the vocal power of achieving the “perfect family harmony,” something BroZone nearly did in their prime. This conundrum sends Branch, Poppy, and the comic relief stowaway Tiny Diamond (Kenan Thompson) with John Dory as they seek out the next two missing members of BroZone, the retired beachside restaurateur Spruce (Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs) and the fun park-dwelling Clay (rapper Kid Cudi).
The morals within Trolls Band Together and its zany sprint to Mount Rageous are all very simplistic and surround verbalizing both current and old feelings. Branch’s resurfaced past has shaken him from being honest while much of the old resentment that broke up BroZone also bubbles up again. The healing balms (and borderline plot armor ingredients) for this dysfunction of confidence and acceptance are following your heart and sticking with family instead of leaving for isolation, which come out in encouraging monologues and the new cast member of Poppy’s long-lost sister Viva (former girl grouper Camila Cabello). The peppered life lessons will garner parental approval for Trolls Band Together, but not before appealing to their musical memories first.
History will tell you the proverbial “boy band” dates back to the a cappella barbershop quartets of the early 20th century and has been expanding ever since then through The Ink Spots, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and the three-decade hey-day from the 1980s to the 2000s. No matter if it’s the falsetto high notes or the baritone low ones, the crushes are real and have become pop culture rites of passage. Ask anyone of any age—from 10 to 110—and they can tell you the top boy band that was the inescapable soundtrack of their youth. Moreover, if you turn on a playlist of their era on the spot, they will likely remember more words than are willing to admit.
Lo and behold, here’s Trolls Band Together and Justin Timberlake, an alum of a boy band himself creating BroZone. Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Justin’s here like a crooner holding court at a live show telling a gathered crowd “We’ve got something special for you tonight…” before unveiling a surprise guest waiting backstage that brings the house down. Mirroring the movie’s main plot arc, Timberlake’s trump card is an *NSYNC reunion 22 years in the making, but not before the assembled BroZone cast members melt your face first.
Timberlake, the studio, screenwriter Elizabeth Tippet, and series director Walt Dohrn knew damn well what they were doing to showcase boy bands in Trolls Band Together alongside the frenetic and silly pace of the action and the effervescence of the family-centered entertainment. This entire commitment and presentation of boy band energy makes the nostalgic parents from the Gen-X and Millennial generations the true target audience of the film. They’ll be the ones showing up in their old band shirts, keying on the thinly-veiled commentary of the music industry hiding under the arts-and-crafts fuzzy aesthetics, tapping their feet, and dancing in the theater aisles faster than their kiddos.
Just like the first film that crescendo-ed with the Oscar-nominated “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” the high point of Trolls Band Together arrives with its signature song “Better Place.” It’s sung first by the combined cast (Timberlake, André, Cudi, Sivan, Diggs, Kendrick, and Cabello) during the plot while *NSYNC takes over for the full version over the closing credits. It’s an earworm of a pop ditty and siren’s song for the moms and dads. If “Better Place” were any catchier, it would be made of Velcro, require a multi-stage emergency vaccine, and required to be gloved by MLB All-Star J.T. Realmuto.