Well. This is awkward.
As the nation remains in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, the film industry has all but shut down. Major releases have been moved back or cancelled entirely. Theatre chains have shuttered their doors. At this point, on-demand and streaming are basically the only resources for new cinematic entertainment out there. Even the major studio releases that had already come out this year have been quickly shunted to VOD in hopes of getting some extra viewership and dollars.
In preparation for this monthly column, I keep an eye on scheduled releases, and at this point, there’s basically nothing. Pretty much every movie coming out in April is going straight to Netflix or Amazon. The few paltry remains are either films so small that they had no reasonable expectation of high gross in the first place – like the pulpy revenge thriller Promising Young Woman – or are previously delayed lowbrow efforts that at this stage I think the studios just want to put out to get them off their hands (My Spy).
So, what is there to look at? Pretty much all the streaming movies (Coffee & Kareem, Sergio, Radioactive, etc.) look decent, so there’s no real point in taking them to task on a curve.
But thankfully, there is one major release that will still go forward, and it will even be simultaneously released on-demand, so that all audiences who want to will have access to it. And thankfully, for my purposes, it is one of the most horrendous, vile, terrible-looking piles of drivel possible. And so, all of my bile will be laser-focused on this singular bit of trash that wholeheartedly deserves every ounce of criticism it is sure to get in the coming weeks and months.
This is the April 2020 edition of “This Film (Seriously, ONLY THIS FILM) is Not Yet Watchable!”
Trolls World Tour – April 10
The first Trolls movie was a mixed bag for me. The animation looked nice, and some of the numbers were definitely worth my time (I admit I’m a complete sap and “True Colors” gets me every time). But on the whole, it was childish, silly, nonsensical, and a waste of a catalog soundtrack, to say nothing of Zooey Deschanel just in general.
But it was okay because it was meant for children, very little children. I watched it in a second-run theatre (“Can’t Stop the Feeling” being nominated for Original Song) where the only other people in the audience were a homeless guy sleeping in the back and a family with toddlers that was watching it while waiting for a dentist appointment. The kiddies got a kick out of it, so it accomplished its goal.
However, this long-awaited sequel seems to delight in the fact that it’s marketed directly to children, and uses that fact to exploit and warp the very definitions of music and genre to elevate some of the more profitable subdivisions while literally demonizing others.
The trailer begins with Anna Kendrick as Princess Poppy reprising her performance of “The Sound of Silence” from the first movie, only to be interrupted by a shrill electric guitar. Rising from the depths of Troll Hell is Barb (Rachel Bloom of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) shredding “Crazy Train” to intimidate and confuse/disgust her. We then “learn” that Troll mythology states that there are six magical strings to represent the six types of music: Pop, Funk, Classical, Techno, Country, and Rock.
Let’s just stop right there and analyze the bullshit. First off, the tone is immediately set by how dark, angry, and aggressive Barb is. It’s a clear signal to all the kids out there that rock is mean and pop is happy and good. If you don’t believe me, wait 15 seconds until King Peppy introduces the six strings, and “Pop” is represented by a heart, while “Rock” is depicted with a numbskull banging his head into a drum. It’s simple, straightforward manipulative imagery. It’s also false and insulting.
One, Simon & Garfunkel are ALSO rock, just a different type of rock. They’re folk rock, whereas Barb is heavy metal, but it’s all under the same umbrella. That’s the whole point of rock and roll, that various instrumentations and rhythms can come together to be more than the sum of their parts. Anything can be rock if the rock spirit is behind it, of which Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel certainly qualify.
The opening assertion is an oblivious muddling of the time when “Pop” used to be an amalgamation of all that was popular at a given moment, rather than its own genre that is mass-produced to be a self-repeating cycle of moneymaking nonsense like it is today. As for the other “strings,” Funk is ALSO rock AGAIN. George Clinton is as much rock as Paul Simon or Ozzy Osbourne (who apparently plays Barb’s father, King Thrash, who is, according to the film’s Wiki page, “senile and handicapped,” a not-so-subtle dig that rock is only for the old and out of touch). Classical predates all modern music by centuries, so when exactly did the Troll elders get together? Techno is done on computers (which somehow don’t exist in the Troll world) and by some definitions doesn’t even qualify as music, to say nothing of the fact that the rave crowds include Troll babies, while in reality techno shows are half about making babies instead. Country is just a bunch of bumpkin stereotypes (they got Kelly Clarkson to voice their leader, Delta Dawn, rather Carrie Underwood – go figure).
This whole montage is meant to demonstrate that Pop is superior to all, even when such an assertion would be patently false to anyone with critical thinking skills, i.e. NOT CHILDREN! And yet, the enemy is Rock, because Barb wants to “unite” the strings to destroy every form of music except rock.
This is just a more colorful version of the “devil music” arguments rock has had to endure for over 70 years. The only difference now is that modern Pop music is actually just as bad as detractors always thought rock was (violent, sexual, etc.), except that Pop is now in power, and they’re the ones actively trying to make rock disappear in favor of its own product. Rock had “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Pop has “Touch My Body” and “Bang Bang.” Rock had the Rolling Stones. Pop has The Chainsmokers (great name and image for the kids). Even the previous film’s “pop” catalog contained covers of songs by Lionel Richie, Earth Wind & Fire, and Donna Summer, because that’s how far back they had to go to get songs that were “safe” for the kiddies.
So how exactly is rock the enemy? The music industry has spent the last 25 years trying to destroy rock from the inside. They’ve elevated boy bands and pop princesses that would have normally only had a brief moment in the sun into acts that stick around for decades. They’ve taken over radio stations across the country to play the same predetermined list of “hits” over and over again. They inserted the likes of Billie Eilish into the mainstream (and she looks just as aggressive and dark as Barb) and even tried to pass them off as rock or rock-adjacent even though stylistically they’re just the same computerized, mass-produced stuff that comprises the rest of modern Pop.
And even if this premise weren’t asinine on its face, it way oversimplifies the spectrum of music. It doesn’t even include things like rap, jazz, R&B, soul, electronica, etc. The best we get is one cheap joke where Guy Diamond (Kunal Nayyar of The Big Bang Theory) has a baby Hip Hop Troll from his hair, which then raps about glitter. No rapper, anywhere, seriously raps about glitter, but that’s the best they can do to acknowledge the genre because again, the best and most well-known stuff is not suitable for the audience of preschoolers. Eminem is one of the greatest artists in rap history, but his music is decidedly NOT for the kindergarten set. In a different trailer, we get the briefest of references to other stuff in the form of a Smooth Jazz Troll, which basically gives the cast boners with its Kenny G tenor sax.
Now I’m sure the powers that be at DreamWorks who made this garbage are going to try to find some way to buy it all back in the end. Perhaps Barb will learn the error of her ways and rock will once again live in harmony with everything else. I’m sure there’ll be hugs and token acknowledgements of intrinsic value for all music. But this is pernicious tripe being marketed directly to the most vulnerable of ears, all with the clichéd and frankly racist color palette of black = bad. The whole point of the first Trolls movie was to be mindless kids entertainment and sell a few toys. But based on this trailer, this is a much more sinister attempt to snuff out a legitimate genre of music for good by making it the enemy of all that is shiny, happy, and fun. And I won’t stand for it.
Join the conversation in the comments below! Are you going to see this movie? Are you ever going to see another movie ever again? Can I please go outside soon? Let me know!