Trolls: Band Together: A Franchise that Still Has Pop

Trolls felt like the little franchise that could. With the release of the first film back in 2016, this ‘toy-turned-movie series didn’t seem like it would continue to grow with each entry. Yet, here we are. Seven years later, the release of Trolls: Band Together proves that the franchise has legs (well… hair). 

But, most importantly, it still has new ground to explore.

Trolls: Band Together returns to the fabled forest as Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake) are preparing to help their friends on their wedding day. However, the festivities are interrupted with the return of John Dory (Eric Andre), Branch’s estranged brother. John Dory explains their other brother Floyd (Troye Sivan) has been captured by pop sensation Velvet and Veneer (Amy Schumer & Andrew Rannells) and that the only thing that can save him is ‘the perfect family pitch’. Suddenly, Branch, John Dory and Poppy embark on a furious family reunion in order to reunite Branch’s brothers and save Floyd from a fate even worse than pop-culture obscurity.

Directed by Walt Dohrn, Trolls: Band Together is breezy pop fun that is sure to delight audiences. Now three films and a television series deep, this is usually the time when we start to see the cracks in a given franchise. (This is particularly remarkable when one considers that this franchise originally stemmed from the popular toy line.) Even so, Dohrn and his team continue to expand the narrative of Trolls in ways that manage to keep the franchise fresh. 

(from left) Branch (Justin Timberlake), Tiny Diamond (Kenan Thompson), Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and John Dory (Eric André) in Trolls Band Together, directed by Walt Dohrn.

Remarkably, Band Together’s visuals blows the doors off of the Trolls universe. New environments lead to some stunning animated sequences, each exhibiting new textures and colour palettes. This is especially true with the addition of Mountrageous, the franchise’s first truly urban area. For a franchise that has leaned heavily into fairytale-type visuals, the inclusion of a cityscape shatters the type of textures that we are used to seeing in Branch and Poppy’s home world. In these moments, the fuzzy warmth of the Trolls disappear in favour of a smoother, more plastic effect. However, the changes aren’t limited to Mountrageous. From puppets to paper, Band Together really tries to stretch the boundaries of the Trolls’ craft-like experience in surprising ways. (This animation still looks great on the small screen as well, especially in 4K which really brings out the colour palette.)

Of course, any entry into the Trolls franchise is built upon the back of its music. Interestingly, this film seems to fully leans into its themes of brotherhood and family by focusing on more family-oriented groups. Teases of old boy bands and group melodies give life to the film with a furious pop energy that seems to span generations. Whether it’s Sister Sledge, The Bee Gees, Salt ‘n Pepa, New Kids on the Block, Weezer or GAYLE & Em Beihold, Band Together seems even more interested in blurring the lines between eras than other entries.

(from left) Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells) in Trolls Band Together, directed by Walt Dohrn.

And, yes. There’s also the return of *NSYNC.

With their first new song in over 20 years, *NSYNC’s revival becomes an obvious focus for the film, even if they’re never mentioned directly. Tapping into the nostalgic vibe, this is a film about the struggles of ‘getting the band back together’, which seems to almost imitate life for a group that broke up in the wake of Timberlake’s solo success. At the same time, the story opens the doors to laugh at ‘boyband culture’. (Timberlake is even willing to poke fun at his old hairstyle and falsetto.)

With this in mind, Band Together ultimately wants to start conversations about the nature of family, especially when they fail to meet our expectations. Each of Branch’s brothers have grown up and started lives of their own. When they decide to work together, each brother also bring their own baggage into the relationship, causing tension between them. None of these characters are particularly villains but each struggle to work together because of their differences. In this way, Band Together hopes to inspire audiences to see past the things that divide us and celebrate the value of those in our family. 

(from left) Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Viva (Camila Cabello) in Trolls Band Together, directed by Walt Dohrn.

Extras on the physical disc release are relatively scarce. While it features a sing along option and an exclusive (and adorable) short (It Takes Three), there isn’t a lot to entice you. Instead, the emphasis lies solely on the film itself which, for a film of this matter, is entirely fine. This is an animated explosion for children so director’s commentaries need not apply.

Having said this, if there’s a flaw to Band Together, it’s that doesn’t quite have the depth of the previous entry. For example, in World Tour, the film is a surprisingly accurate exploration of the ways that pop music attempted to overwrite other cultural sounds. However, with Band Together, the film focuses more on its characters and their relationships than any attempt to re-examine history. 

But, for most viewers, this won’t matter.

While it doesn’t quite reach the next level, Trolls: Band Together is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. With gorgeous animation, nostalgic tone and an endless string of pop hits, this is a film that will undoubtedly charm families who decide to make the trip to the theatre Together.

Trolls: Band Together is available on 4K and Blu-ray on Tuesday, January 16th, 2024.

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