Anyone who grew up in the 1970s will remember The Trolls. The vinyl creatures with DayGlo Eraserhead coifs and big goofy smiles invaded pop culture, decorating everything from rear view mirrors to teen’s bedrooms. Unlike modern day internet trolls, these creatures were joyful, hug-happy little things with more personality than your average Pet Rock and a ubiquity that made them one of the symbols of a kinder and gentler time.
Then they, like other 70s fads like disco music, streakers and Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo, they faded into obscurity, banished forever to the Retro section of your local junk shop.
Now they’re back in Trolls, an animated adventure from the makers of Shrek Forever After and Mr. Peabody & Sherman that aims to spread some cheer amid a fraught election season.
Co-director Walt Dohrn says he hopes the film’s message of optimism in the face of adversity will be “an antidote to the madness of the world.”
“When Walt and I set out to make this film,” says co-director Mike Mitchell, “we did want to make a film about happiness because the news and the media is so scary. And not just for kids, adults too. The internet is so judgemental and snarky.”
“The world is kind of a difficult and dark place,” adds Dohrn, “so putting something out there that talked about happiness, where it comes from, what happens when you lose it…”
“…will get people discussing the power of a positive attitude and happiness,” says Mitchell, finishing his friend’s sentence. “I’m hopeful this will start a trend of, It’s OK to be happy. It’s cool. Especially with this clowny, weird election going on.”
Trolls the movie is as eye-popping as the psychedelic creatures that inspired it. Mitchell and Dohrn have made a movie that is possibly the weirdest and most colourful kid’s entertainment since H.R. Pufnstuf. They had the freedom to do so because the beloved 1970s toy Trolls came with no backstory.
“That’s what was cool about working on this,” says Mitchell. “Even though these Trolls had been around forever and ever, there was no story. No mythology to it so Walt and I got to make a whole world. We could create a whole new world you’ve never seen before, create whole new characters.”
They created a realm where the Trolls (voiced by Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand, James Corden and Gwen Stefani) make a daring escape from the Troll Tree in Bergen Town. The Bergens are snaggletooth ogres, as miserable as the Trolls are joyful. True happiness for the glum townies only comes with eating Trolls, obviously a huge problem for our heroes.
“Walt and I are huge fans of old fairy tales,” says Mitchell on the inclusion of the Troll-eating Bergens, “and those stories always had someone going down, having their heart taken out.”
“We’re finding the younger viewers don’t have a problem with it,” says Dohrn. “It’s the parents trying to protect them.”
The cheerful co-directors finish one another’s sentences and have a camaraderie that suggests they have taken the movie’s messages of friendship to heart.
“He’s an optimist and I’m a pessimist,” says Mitchell. “That’s kind of how we approached directing this film. We had a balance. In making it I discovered the power of a positive attitude.”