Colorfully frenetic Trolls Band Together says bye, bye, bye to a good time at the theater

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Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

TROLLS BAND TOGETHER
Theaters


I will give Trolls Band Together this much: it is the first film in the series that did not give me a headache. It's still a bunch of nonsense for the sake of being nothing more than nonsensical, and its unrelenting silliness is not so hidden in the guise of a jukebox musical in which the song mashups very rarely have a connection to the scenes they are being sung in. But I was never in pain watching this one, and that's a step in the right direction.

The next question is, of course, why do I keep giving these films a chance? As much as I don't like 2016's Trolls or 2020's Trolls World Tour, I still keep wanting each entry to be good. Kids love them, the primary voice actors (Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake) are really good together, and the animation is always inventive, colorful, and creatively surprising. Also, even if I don't always think the songs fit with what is on the screen, I want these features to work, and it almost makes me angry that none of them do.

For my money, this one does come the closest. There's barely a plot but that doesn't matter too terribly much. Branch (Timberlake) used to be in a troll boy band with his four siblings and is convinced, much to the excitement of Poppy (Kendrick), to get the group back together when Mount Rageous pop divas Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells) kidnap his favorite brother, Floyd (Troye Sivan) for nefarious reasons. This is the type of visual, family-friendly lunacy that hits the ground running and doesn't stop until the end of credits complete their crawl. In this instance at least, that's honestly not too bad a thing.

But none of that stops writers Elizabeth Tippet and Thomas Dam from packing as much into the limited running time as they can, not appearing to care a lick if any of it sticks together all that well. Not only does Branch have a quartet of brothers no one had ever known about until now, but Poppy has also her own secret sister, Viva (Camila Cabello), who she didn't even know existed, and Bergens King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) get married. There's another road trip with stops at a spooky minigolf and a muppet-tastic surfing resort, and Tiny Diamond (Kenan Thompson) does more Tiny Diamond things that I imagine the filmmakers believe kids just love.

Outside of Schumer, Rannells, Sivan, and Cabello, other voice actors making their first appearance in the series include Eric André, Daveed Diggs, Kid Cudi, and Zosia Mamet. Oh, there's also the return of Timberlake's four other bandmates, who worked with him in pop music synchronicity during the 1990s and early 2000s before they all said bye, bye, bye to one another. I'm guessing most reading this already know who they are.

Look, directors Walt Dohrn and Tim Heitz give it their best shot, and the animators once again craft a visually ingenious world that sometimes feels as if they were flying high when they dreamt it all up. Music producers Timberlake and Mike Elizondo have manufactured a likable sonic landscape, and the signature new tune "Better Place" is a catchy and clever instant pop hit.

Yet I still don't care. Like its predecessors, Trolls Band Together is a lot of visual freneticism that adds up to absolutely nothing substantive. Stuff happens. Characters sing. Everyone twirls, whirls, sprints, cartwheels, and dances with happy abandon. While I admit I'm not the target audience for this sort of thing, I still believe young viewers deserve a heck of a lot better. If this lot of happy-go-lucky singing trolls return for a fourth adventure in the future, I think it's about time I choose to forgo the pleasure of their company and just stay home.