Dreamworks Animation kicked off the first major Comic-Con panel this morning in Hall H, where they rolled out an extended look at the upcoming Trolls movie. Creators Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn, who previously collaborated on the Shrek franchise, were on hand alongside stars Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake to showcase the vibrant, feel-good comedy about the tubby little troll dolls that have captured the imagination of children for decades.
Appropriately, they unveiled their film in front of hundreds of sky-high neon tufts of hair (thanks to the Troll wigs they handed out at the entrance). Trolls puts the classic dolls in a newly imagined setting, telling the tale of the titular creatures, an irrepressibly joyful tribe who spend their time scrapbooking, singing and hugging. When the monstrous Bergens (a miserable species who can only ever experience happiness when they eat a troll), kidnap a handful of trolls, their queen Poppy (Kendrick), sets out on an impossible rescue mission. “The singingest, dancingest, happiest troll of all,” Poppy is joined by Timberlake’s Branch — a no hugs, no dancing curmudgeon who’s lost his faith, his color drained to a dull grey.
During the panel, we got a sneak peak at a surprising amount of the film, near 20 minutes. Set at the top of the second act, we follow Poppy as she attempts to recruit Branch on her rescue mission after the Bergen attack, but the paranoid troll retreats to his impeccably stocked fallout shelter instead. Unfazed, Poppy heads out on her journey alone with the rousing musical number “Get Back up Again,” a jubilant tribute to the indomitable optimism of the trolls. Optimistic she may be, but she’s also way out of her depth and when she finds herself at the mercy of a trio of deadly spiders, Branch swings in at the last moment to rescue her. From there, the mismatched pair set off for Bergen Town together in search of their friends.
Mitchell and Dohrn wanted to make a movie about happiness — who has it, how you find it, and why — and they built the entire look and sound of the film around that. The result is a trippy, vibrant landscape of neon hues and adorable creatures, and a pop-filled soundtrack that manages to lace the famous songs into the narrative rather than just forcing the characters into a song break. That’s in part thanks to Timberlake, who not only wrote the infectious single “Can’t Stop the Feeling” for the film, but also produced the music. It’s all rather effective. A film about happiness that inspires happiness in its audience. And occasionally, as in the second sequence, they showed us from the film’s third act, it may inspire a shed tear or two.
There’s also a tremendous abundance of creativity on display, from the scrapbook inspired aesthetic for Poppy’s plans to the bounty of creatures that fill the hyper-colorized, texturally varied landscapes. That extends to the trolls, too. They don’t just have a uniform pot-belly body under tufts of neon hair, but a wide variety of looks (personally, I’m partially to the diamond-esque trolls, but I like sparkly things).
All told, Trolls looks much more impressive than any movie built around a simple childhood toy has the right to be. Mitchell and Dohrn saw the opportunity to build an entirely new world and mythology, and they ran with it full speed, introducing a striking landscape of colors, creatures, and sounds that will tickle the audience’s imagination and send them out of the theater tapping their toes.