The Trolls sequel is here: another eyeball-frazzlingly multicoloured screensaver movie for little kids, with all the aspartame hyperactivity of the first film – but less of the fun, and less (or even less) of the reason to exist in the first place. It’s a film which never relaxes to take a breath for a moment, and is swamped by its own frantic pace. Everything about it feels as if it has been designed and built by an AI programme, and that includes the (undoubtedly amusing) “grown up” gags for the older generation that are periodically spat out with the same algorithmic precision as everything else. (Although, oddly, these wised-up throwaway jokes are never allowed to acknowledge the fact that for most people, young and old, “trolls” are nasty mean people who infest social media. Part of what this film’s carapace of innocence is there for is to protect its audience against things like that.)
The message of the first Trolls film was happiness and love; and it’s the message of this one too – specifically the importance of harmony and diversity. So why does everything in this film look and sound the same?
Perky troll queen Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) is still ruling over her domain happily enough with the help of her friend Branch (Justin Timberlake), who is unable to confess his feelings for her. But this film, with a bit of sleight-of-hand, now reveals the importance of the queen’s name. They have pretty much always thought of themselves specifically as pop trolls: pop music is their thing. Because it is revealed to Poppy that the troll kingdom is bigger than they thought, and there are other music-based troll kingdoms: Funk, Classical, Techno, Country and Rock. The Techno trolls are shown at the beginning in all their U-certificate techno-lite-ness.
But Barb, queen of the Hard Rock Trolls (voiced by Rachel Bloom), daughter of Thrash (voiced by – who else? – Ozzy Osbourne) is on a world-tour mission to conquer all the other troll kingdoms and make them submit to the awesome majesty of rock. It appears that way back in the mists of time, the six types of music were six strings on a mystical Orphean lyre, which were separated and given to each troll monarch. Barb plans to collect all six strings as trophies, put them on her guitar and play one single devastating power chord: a Tolkienian moment which will establish her dominion. That’s unless Poppy can win her over with the winsome, unthreatening world of pop, and convince Barb that all types of music can co-exist happily.
In some ways, Trolls World Tour wants to absorb the established brand of School of Rock, and maybe even a little bit of the hard-rock guitarist to be seen on the front of that huge speeding rig in Mad Max: Fury Road. But the flavour and the texture is mulched in with everything else here. In some ways, it’s an achievement to have finessed a dramatic and musical arrangement in which all different types of music (even including Reggaeton and K-Pop) are all squished together on indistinguishable equal terms: a more adult kind of film might well have been paralysed by considerations of identity politics.
But there is something absolutely robotic about Trolls World Tour: the voices, the design, the dialogue, the plot progressions, the break-up-make-up crisis between Poppy and Branch, everything. It’s chillingly efficient, like a driverless car going round in circles.
•Trolls World Tour is out now on digital platforms.