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From left: John Dory (Eric Andre), Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake) in Trolls Band Together.Universal Pictures/Handout

  • Trolls Band Together
  • Directed by Walt Dohrn and Tim Heitz
  • Written by Elizabeth Tippet
  • Featuring the voices of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake and Amy Schumer
  • Classification G; 91 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Nov. 17

If Trolls Band Together is a mild disappointment, it’s only because the first two movies in this franchise were better than they had any right to be.

To be clear, all three installments find frivolous ways to bank on a pre-existing intellectual property, giving the thumb-sized dolls with woolly, cotton-candy-coloured hair the Glee treatment, using flimsy rescue mission narratives to string together jukebox musical numbers. They never aspire to the subversive brand satire of The Lego Movie, nor do they ever feel as cynical as, say, Minions. They’re just earnest, joyous and colourful.

The 2016 Trolls got high on its psychedelic Pop Rocks aesthetics and its affection for high-energy Top 40 music, with standout original numbers from its two musically gifted voice stars Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake. The former’s Get Back Up Again is a sprightly and infectious picker-upper, and the latter’s Can’t Stop the Feeling … well, suffice to say it blew up the charts. The 2020 sequel, Trolls World Tour – which historically disrupted theatrical versus digital release paradigms by being the first to land directly in everyone’s homes during the pandemic – was even more ambitious. The movie was like a primer for primary school audiences on pop music history. To go from all that to Trolls Band Together, which culminates in an NSYNC reunion tour, can be deflating to say the least.

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The animation in Trolls Band Together is as fun, inventive and gorgeous as ever.Universal Pictures/Handout

It was bound to happen, though. We’ve been putting up with Timberlake’s flat voice acting as the sickly looking emo troll Branch for this long – a Faustian trade-off so he could hit those high notes on the track list. Now he gets to trot out his old boy-band comrades in a third instalment that flatters his presence and has harmless fun by tying his origin story to that of his character’s.

Timberlake’s Branch, you may remember, is an outlier who in the 2016 movie is welcomed into the euphoric troll community by Kendrick’s Poppy. She remains an infectiously charming presence, even as her role is slightly diminished this time in favour of Timberlake’s wet blanket.

Here we find out that Branch, as a baby in diapers, was the youngest member of a popular sibling quintet called BroZone, who would sing songs like Girl Baby Baby or Baby Baby Girl before they broke up and abandoned him. They’re voiced by comedian Eric André, Hamilton star Daveed Diggs, rapper Kid Cudi and singer Troye Sivan, whose Floyd is abducted by talentless popstars, prompting this movie’s reluctant rescue reunion.

The remaining NSYNC bros aren’t tagged in until the final number, Better Place, their first single in more than two decades. It’s a blandly catchy headlining song on a soundtrack that pales in comparison to its predecessors. I would assume that the fixation on boy bands is a limitation on the music in Trolls Band Together, but that wouldn’t explain how Domee Shi’s Turning Red rallied its enthusiasm for that same era in music and churned out the rousing and transcendent anthem Nobody Like U.

Here, the soundtrack’s highlight is a remix compilation that self-servingly curates NSYNC’s I Want You Back alongside classics such as New Edition’s Candy Girl, Boyz II Men’s Motown Philly and New Kids on the Block’s The Right Stuff. I’m here for the Backstreet Boys’ response to being left out of all this back-patting.

If the music is less than, the animation in Trolls Band Together is as fun, inventive and gorgeous as ever, with environments that appear to be put together from the toys and objects found in a kindergarten or a craft table. The plants are carved from pool noodles; the water is an accumulation of beads; the retro eighties sunsets will be familiar to anyone who went to school with a Trapper Keeper binder; and a dance sequence looks like it could have been made on a Lite-Brite.

Staying true to the boy band spirit, Trolls Band Together looks a lot better than it sounds.

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