Tag Archives: dreamWorks

‘Trolls’ is big-hearted sensory overload

“Trolls” is a sugary sweet confection of sights and sounds that will surely leave a fair share of adults with an aching stomach and bleeding ears from sensory overload.

But, it’s not for them, is it?

Sure, it’s their childhood toys that are being riffed on, but beyond the dazzlingly grotesque renderings of the 1970s rec room look — all carpets and felt and mustard yellows — “Trolls” is not a nostalgia play.

It’s for the kids, and fairly young ones too, who will no doubt be swept up by the neon, the sterilized cover songs of pop music past and present, and the goofy, big-hearted humor. Even the parents will find loads of charm from that last one. The script is quite clever, but it is too easily overshadowed by everything else that’s going on (which is a lot).

The governing theory behind “Trolls” seems to have been to crank it up to eleven at every turn. That fits with the mantra of the Trolls themselves, which is hyper positivity (and I do mean hyper). They sing and dance and hug every hour and celebrate with joyous abandon. There’s even a Troll in full body sparkles who sings only in auto-tune — an example of how the jokes can go way too far into just plain annoying territory.

Thankfully, it’s grounded with some truly fantastic vocal talent led by Anna Kendrick (Princess Poppy), whose impeccable comedic timing and silky speaking and singing are perfectly used. I just wish they would have stuck with more original songs, saving the known pop tunes for comedic effect only. Sonically speaking, “Trolls” is hitting a little too close to that abysmal George Lucas mess “Strange Magic.”

The story itself is an odd one. The Trolls have some distant neighbors called Bergens — grotesque-looking monsters suffering from chronic depression who decided long ago that the only way to be happy is to eat Trolls. Yes, EAT the Trolls, like their own personal supply of Prozac. For some reason, they only do this once a year on Trollstice. But that all ended 20-some years ago when the Troll King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor) heroically staged a massive escape mission, saving his subjects from death by Bergen.

Cut to the present day and the Trolls are happy and celebratory as ever, but their party gets a little too rowdy and, well, an exiled Bergen (Christine Baranski) spots them and captures a few to weasel her way back into the good graces of the people of Bergen Town. The dreary ugliness of Bergen Town and its inhabitants actually has a bit of a Jim Henson-vibe, reminding older audiences of a time when children’s productions were still allowed to be insanely weird and even a little creepy. But it stops at the visuals. Even the awkward Bergen scullery maid Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) has a perfectly crisp pop voice when she bursts into Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” Why didn’t she go full character actress in song? It’s just another one of the ways in which “Trolls” mashes up past and present in a way that doesn’t quite coalesce.

In any event, Poppy and the rare negative troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) take it on themselves to go try to save the captured Trolls. They have a fun enough buddy comedy chemistry together, though Timberlake is not as adept at voice acting as Kendrick is. And ultimately, the “get happy” moral of the story, while trite compared to something like “Inside Out,” is sufficiently sweet enough for its audience. Did you expect more from a piece of candy?

 

‘Peabody & Sherman’ a sweet, geeky jaunt

Animated films have seen their share of uptight dads — the most memorable being merman Triton and his strict rule over daughter Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” and the over-protective caveman Grug in the prehistoric journey “The Croods.” Mr. Peabody the dog in the charming “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is no different.

As the aforementioned papas learned, this overbearing beagle must eventually loosen the leash he has on his adopted son, Sherman. But this is especially difficult for Mr. Peabody, since Sherman is not only a lively youngster, but a human one.

Heartfelt and snappy, DreamWorks Animation’s “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” follows the wild adventures that bond a dog and his boy. Within the first few moments, we discover Mr. Peabody (voiced by a tenacious and loveable Ty Burrell) is a pseudo-intellectual dog who attended Harvard. Meticulous and reserved, Mr. Peabody’s success has earned him an impressive penthouse in New York City and the consent to adopt Sherman (voiced by child actor Max Charles of ABC’s “The Neighbors”), who he found abandoned in a cardboard box as a baby.

Like last year’s wacky, yet underwhelming “Free Birds,” this animated feature features time-travel. Luckily, “Peabody & Sherman” offers a tighter plot and adorably geeky dialogue, thanks to writer Craig Wright (“Six Feet Under”). Via a time-machine he’s invented, papa Peabody has enriched Sherman’s upbringing with visits to past eras and the benchmark events within them — like Vincent van Gogh’s creation of “The Starry Night.”

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, Mr. Peabody and Sherman first appeared in “Peabody’s Improbable History,” a segment within the animated television series “Rocky and His Friends” and later “The Bullwinkle Show.” The latest film modernizes the duo’s story, time-machine still included, into a 3-D jaunt.

Now in elementary school, Sherman, a cute kid with wild red hair and huge glasses, is curious and frisky. On his first day of class, a brainy blonde named Penny (voiced by Ariel Winter of “Modern Family”) starts a fight with Sherman when he challenges her knowledge of George Washington, who he’s actually met in his time travels.

Despite the aptitude of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, we never really get another glimpse of Penny’s intelligence, even as she becomes a central character. Instead, she’s mostly obnoxious and when Sherman takes her for a ride on the time machine, she leads him to be disobedient. But she also encourages him to be a risk-taker, fostering his individuality and that of the little ones watching. It’s here that Mr. Peabody learns a thing or two about parenting. He must remain in control, while allowing Sherman to make mistakes.

As Mr. Peabody and Sherman visit ancient Egypt, the French Revolution and the Trojan War, historical tidbits unfold in cunning ways. However, aspects of their adventures, like Leonardo da Vinci’s weird robot baby invention, are often too loony. But the story, with additional voices by Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann and Allison Janney, does have the ability to inspire kids’ curiosity about historical benchmarks. And though a few corny jokes may go over their heads — “Perhaps I’m an old Giza,” Mr. Peabody says after leaving Egypt — jabs at Spartacus and Bill Clinton will make adults giggle.

Directed by Rob Minkoff (“The Lion King,” “Stuart Little”) and with Jason Schleifer (“Megamind”) as the head of character animation, the visuals are stylish and clean. But the 3-D effect is unnecessary. Danny Elfman, whose credits include “Big Fish” and 14 Tim Burton films, crafts a score that’s sprightly and sentimental. The most touching moments come during montages of Mr. Peabody and Sherman playing sports.

The kiddie film is a big wet kiss for dogs and dog lovers that champions loyalty and bravery as not only traits of canines, but as universal attributes.