Trolls Comc-Con Panel

DreamWorks Animation brought their trippy animated musical adventure Trolls to Comic-Con this year. As we’ve seen in the trailers, it’s a feature film adaptation of the wild-haired dolls that became popular in the 1990s, and it brings a bunch of pop music hits to the big screen with a so many bright colors, weird characters and creatures, all making for a delightful acid trip that’s safe for kids.

The studio showed off about 15 minutes of footage from the movie, and I was surprised to find that this wasn’t just a showcase for a bunch of pop songs for no reason. Instead, it’s a musical where the songs really motivate the story and help develop the characters. Plus, the original songs executive produced by Justin Timberlake are bound to be favorites of kids and adults alike.

Read more about the Trolls Comic-Con panel after the jump, including some additions to the cast that just might get you even more interested in an animated movie that looks truly original despite being based on a toyline.

Mike Mitchell and Walt Dorn are directing Trolls for DreamWorks Animation after previously working together on the Shrek franchise. The motivation came from wanting to “get the band back together” from the Shrek franchise, and they wanted to have a movie that was about innate happiness. They wanted to answer the questions about where happiness comes from, how do you get it, and what happens when you lose it? And they decided to explore that through the eyes of trolls.

But without any sort of narrative history for the trolls that DreamWorks Animation is bringing to the big screen, they created their own mythology. There are two tribes of trolls. The happy, bright, singing kind are simply called trolls. They even have watches on their hands that bloom into flowers every hour to signal that it’s hug time.

Then there are Bergens, the giant, ugly, unhappy folks  who are only happy if they’re eating the happy trolls. Apparently they taste like a cupcake wrapped in bacon and make the unhappy trolls only temporarily happy. The fact that the happy trolls are eaten, almost as if they’re drugs, feels like a subtle anti-drug message, which is odd in a movie that feels like one big acid trip. Or maybe just an anti-cannibal message.

For the Trolls, their bright colors represent their happiness. Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and all of her friends are all brightly colored and singing because they’re happy all the time. After all, Trolls are inherently happy since their arms are perpetually spread for a hug. In fact, Walt Dorn researched how a hug really works, and found that a seven second hug is necessary to actually generate dopamine and the happiness that comes from it.

Then there’s Branch (Justin Timberlake), a troll who has lost the color in his skin and hair because something bad happened to him and now he’s always upset or mad, worried that the Bergens will come back one day because the rest of the trolls won’t stop singing and having parties. Coincidentally enough, it’s a party celebrating 20 years without Bergen attacks that brings them back to the village to kidnap all of Poppy’s friends, known as The Snack Pack.

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The footage we were show during the panel followed Poppy as she convinced Branch to come with her in an attempt to get her friends back. It’s all just as bright and colorful as you’ve seen in the trailers. The environments are extremely trippy, some of them feeling more like dream sequences than the world in which the trolls exists, but it all appears to be a tangible part of the trolls universe.

The number of different creatures in this movie is astounding. There are things that you think are hills, plants or tress, and they turn out to be things that can move and sing, or more often than not, eat another creature. All of the creatures have a variety of different textures, and unlike the trolls, they all feel like they were made out of various kinds of fabric and material.

There’s a sequence where Poppy is singing about getting back up after being knocked down (it’s not the Katy Perry song with similar lyrics, but a catchy original tune), and she runs on a swirling fabric-looking snake. Seriously, if there are people who do drugs and go to this movie, they’re going to have a wild time. But it’s also so bright, fast-paced and full of catchy music that kids are going to adore it as well.

Speaking of which, the original songs in this movie are bound to become favorites of adults and kids alike. The aforementioned song that Anna Kendrick sings begins with her just nervously singing about going on an adventure and then becomes a song that makes you want to get up and dance. Another song in a later clip was more somber, leading to an uplifting refrain, but I won’t spoil that sequence because it gives away a pretty major plot point that you should save for when you see the movie.

What’s great about the soundtrack, executive produced by Justin Timberlake, is that it doesn’t feel like a bunch of pop songs are being forced into the soundtrack just for the hell of it. One sequence where we see the Bergens has them singing the refrain from the Gorillaz track “Clint Eastwood” to represent the inherent sadness that they all feel while doing mundane things around their dark, dingy, dirty village. Mike Mitchell said that it was Justin Timberlake who helped make the variety of songs they wanted in the movie fit together musically, referring to the pop star as their “sonic wizard.”

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Something else that’s refreshing is that the comedy on display didn’t use pop culture references as a crutch for comedy. It’s the characters, their wild designs, and the completely strange environments that bring about the most laughs. Whether it’s a talking cloud wearing gym socks (voiced by Walt Dorn) who has eyes that make him look like he’s high (though not overtly so), or just a little musical sequence where Poppy rounds up some of the creatures and plants to sing Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” in order to mock Branch’s generally sour attitude. There’s other odd little touches too like a couple bugs being used as a defibrillator.

The directors and producer Gina Shay (who also worked on Shrek Forever After) wanted to bring a 70s vibe to the movie, which is why there’s all the bright colors. And the soundtrack will have flares of the decade too with Justin Timberlake mentioning Earth Wind and Fire as being on the soundtrack.

Also helping bring the soundtrack to life is the outstanding voice cast. We already knew that Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick were leading the movie, and they had Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand, James Corden and Gwen Stefani. But the panel also revealed that Ron Funches, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Rhys Darby and Quvenzhané Wallis. We’ll also get to hear Jeffrey Tambor as Poppy’s dad and John Cleese and the Bergen king. There was even some recording done as recently as last week, so they’re still working to make this movie the best it can be.

As someone who wasn’t sure what Trolls was going to bring to the table, I think this could become a big hit. From what I’ve seen, the way the soundtrack is used in the movie looks much more interesting than the use of music in Illumination Entertainment’s Sing. I don’t want to shoot for the moon, but Trolls looks like it takes an iconic toy and gives it an original, compelling and fun big screen story in the same way that The LEGO Movie did. The same comedic sensibility and cleverness isn’t quite there, but it’s definitely something unique and promising.

DreamWorks Animation’s TROLLS is an irreverent comedy extravaganza with incredible music! From the genius creators of SHREK, TROLLS stars Anna Kendrick as Poppy, the optimistic leader of the Trolls, and her polar opposite, Branch, played by Justin Timberlake. Together, this unlikely pair of Trolls must embark on an adventure that takes them far beyond the only world they’ve ever known.

Trolls arrives November 4.

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