“I am focusing on the real big positive of it: the joy of being able to share it with so many people all at once,” director Walt Dohrn told The Times during a recent phone interview. “Because the movie is designed to make you feel good. The comedy and the music and the colors and art direction, it’s all designed for the audience to have a good time.”
Now tasked with bringing cheer to unexpectedly gloomy times, the DreamWorks Animation sequel follows Queen Poppy and her peppy band of Pop Trolls as they discover their kingdom is just one of many in a world filled with different kinds of Trolls. Each Troll land represents a different genre of music, including techno, funk, rock, classical and country.
According to Poppy’s father, King Peppy, “In ancient times, the Trolls lived in harmony until they became intolerant of each other’s music,” and it’s exactly the kind of world-building premise you’d expect from a sequel. As producer Gina Shay explains, “[It’s] kind of like when you’re in the car with your family, and everybody wants to listen to something different. And then they decided to all put on their headphones and go their separate ways and create their own lands that were in isolation.”
As Poppy meets these other Trolls during her musical adventure, she learns that what her father told her is not quite the full story, and her journey leads her to discover what it takes to become a better leader and a better friend.
In addition to introducing new factions and expanding the brightly colored, textured, fibrous landscape introduced in the original film, diversity and inclusivity are among the relatable themes the filmmakers had in mind. At the same time, “Trolls World Tour” remains grounded in a strong female lead.
“We kind of see this as a coming-of-age film for [Poppy],” said Dohrn. “So her growth as a character and specifically as a leader allowed us to kind of find what our narrative arc was — the kind of overarching thematic elements, and how it relates to her personally. Now that she’s become the Queen of Trolls, what kind of lesson would a newly appointed leader learn?”
“Poppy is Queen Poppy now, not Princess Poppy. She’s in a position of leadership and she’s figuring out how to do that,” said Anna Kendrick, who voices the diminutive pink monarch. “Her character journey is really about listening to other people and taking into account other people’s feelings and other people’s experiences.”
For Poppy, learning to listen is about being open to ideas and input from others during their journey as well as being able to properly communicate with her friends. But she’s not the only Troll that has a thing or two to learn about listening to others.
Queen Barb, voiced by Rachel Bloom, is a Rock Troll with major plans to unify all the Trolls under one banner by turning them all into rock zombies by using the six magic strings possessed by the separate main tribes.
“We really tried to run a parallel with our protagonists and antagonists,” said Dohrn. “Early on we decided there’s a lot of similarities between Poppy and Queen Barb that might not be obvious on the external side, but when you get down to it, they shared their faults and their passion.”
“The Queen of Rock is bringing out a rock apocalypse on the world. She wants everyone to listen to her music,” said Shay of Barb’s world tour to wipe out all other music. “They both have similar intentions. It’s just that Barb is going about it the wrong way.”
While Queen Barb is especially vocal about hating pop music, Poppy herself rejects the idea of sad music and insists cheery pop is better.
“We really wanted to create a movie where there weren’t really any villains, but we still needed conflict,” said Dohrn. “We felt like, even though we didn’t want to vilify rock, that rock was an appropriate antagonist ... traditionally the music can be pretty aggressive. Their attitudes can be aggressive, the lyrics are a little aggressive. I don’t think they would deny that, the rock folk.”
The different genres — K-pop, reggaeton and smooth jazz are also among those that briefly appear — emerge as more than just different sonic stylings in the film. They are different identities.
According to the filmmakers, George Clinton, who voices King Quincy of the Funk Trolls, and UCLA professor Darnell Hunt were among those consulted to help toe the line between appreciation and appropriation in how some of these genres are represented.
“The movie talks about the necessity of the authenticity of an experience of a genre and the cultural identity associated with that and celebrating the differences,” said Dohrn. “I think that’s ultimately what the film is about.”
Kendrick, too, appreciated that the film’s theme was updated to fit our times.
“When I was growing up, the message was, ‘We might be different, but don’t worry, we’re all the same,’” said Kendrick. “I’m really happy that the way that we’re teaching the next generation of kids is really more about [how] we’re all different and that’s great.
“We don’t have to be the same. We don’t have to constantly be looking for the things that make us the same in order to relate to people. We can just go ‘You’re totally different and that rocks.’”
Music is uniquely suited to engage with this inclusive message because it can be presented through harmonies and mashups whereas other metaphors can become too abstract. The filmmakers found it also allows for a more creative delivery.
“If you just focus on the music, it didn’t feel like we were having to get on a soapbox with this message,” said Dohrn. “It’s an important theme and important message, but we didn’t want to feel like that’s what [‘Trolls World Tour’ is] all about.… Even though it’s got all this stuff running underneath it, it’s designed to be a lot of fun.”
And that’s one reason why Kendrick also accentuates the positives of the unprecedented circumstances around “Trolls World Tour’s” release.
“I think it’s as weird as literally everything else in the world. Nothing else is normal, so this isn’t normal either,” said Kendrick. “When I found out that they were going to ... put it on-demand so that people could have the movies come to them, so to speak, that just made me really, really happy because I know that a lot of people will be in isolation with young kids. And it’s great that there will be something new for them to watch as well.”