“It’s bland, the lyrics are empty, and it crawls into your brain like an earworm!” screeches Queen Barb of the Hard Rock Trolls (voiced by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom). As a fluffy red mohawk and fishnet tights indicate, pop music does not impress her much. Yet even viewers who share her cynicism may find themselves weak to the psychotropic pleasures offered by this trippy sequel to the 2016 animated musical extravaganza.
In this latest outing, the original pop-loving Trolls discover that five other tribes exist: Techno, Funk, Classical, Country and Hard Rock, and the latter, led by Queen Barb, intends to “unite one nation of Trolls under rock”. The freshly crowned Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick) heads up the revolution against Barb’s fascism, but the film is wry enough to know that even pop music isn’t immune to critique. A track by LMFAO from 2011 is rightly decreed “a crime against music” and funk legend George Clinton croons about cultural appropriation. Mercifully, it’s more weird than worthy.
Another clever aspect of the film is the way it visually translates different musical genres. Techno Trolls have neon glow-stick hair and pulsating, pixelated hearts; the walls of “Vibe City” undulate like a 70s-style lava lamp. Fifty Shades of Grey’s Jamie Dornan cameos as the icky “Smooth Jazz Chaz”, flowing hair and siren saxophone making for a cheering comedy riff on Kenny G. The only bum note is the music itself, despite the presence of prestige pop stars including Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson and Mary J Blige.