As cheesy as it sounds, Trolls is a movie about happiness. But for the animated musical about creatures based on the fad dolls, the concept works.
Exhibit A: I have a take-home midterm, an essay and a story rewrite to do over Homecoming weekend, so I’m obviously stressed out. But on Saturday morning, I go to a pre-screening of Trolls instead. For an hour and a half, I don’t have to be stressed out about school. I’m transported to the perpetually happy world of Poppy, the troll princess (voiced by Anna Kendrick), who, with the help of her pessimistic friend Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake), saves her troll friends from the Bergens, large and scary creatures that eat trolls to feel happiness. When I leave, I’m feeling happy and not stressed.
Exhibit B: I headed down to Chicago to talk with Trolls director Mike Mitchell and co-director Walt Dohrn – the same team behind the Shrek sequels. It’s pouring, and I left my umbrella on the train when I switched lines. On top of it all, I can’t find the hotel where I’m supposed to meet Mitchell and Dohrn. When I finally make it, my shoes are soaked through and my hair is a mess. So, I take a few minutes to compose myself and get ready. Ten minutes later, when the interview’s all over, I’ve forgotten about everything bad that happened to me, and I’m feeling positive again.
Check out the entirety of that mood-changing conversation below.
NBN: The trolls are obviously based on the troll toys, the dolls. What sort of a connection did you guys have to the dolls as kids, if any, and how did that affect working with the movie?
Dohrn: We grew up in the ’70s, and that was kind of the height of the popularity of these things, even though they’d been around for decades, since the ’50s. So we have these vague memories of playing with them in the shag carpet.
Mitchell: My sister had a troll doll, and she had Barbie dolls, and the troll doll would come in and steal Ken away from Barbie. It was like kind of an evil, sexy little troll that took Ken away. It was bizarre. So I have a very odd relationship with trolls. But it was cool that, at the beginning, that’s all that we were presented. That’s all that Dreamworks had, was the troll doll just with the shock of hair. There was no story, there was no mythology, no world.
Dohrn: No characters, no world. So it was pretty much, for us and the other artists on the team, it was a blank slate. Which rarely happens.
Mitchell: That never happens. And we got to build this entire world for these guys.
Dohrn: A world you’ve never been to before. And that’s what’s so great about an animated movie especially, is that it can transport you to a place that doesn’t exist.
NBN:So talking about the blank slate, one of the things I was wondering about throughout the movie is where did the idea for the Bergens come from?
Mitchell: Well the Bergens kind of came from the first, the original trolls that were known for living under bridges and being monsters. And that’s what trolls were known as, so I think that, subconsciously, we kind of snuck that version of a troll in and turned them into Bergens, giant Bergens.
Dohrn: And again, since our movie was about happiness, and trolls represent happiness, and you always need contrast because that’s what creates interest. So if you’re going to have the happiest creatures in the world, you’re going to have to have the perpetually –
Mitchell: The most miserable –
Dohrn: … miserable creatures in the world. And so that’s why we have these Bergens, who represent wanting to get happiness from an external source. That was their role in the movie.
NBN: OK, cool. Another one of the big parts of the movie that I noticed watching it was the soundtrack. There’s a lot of big-name artists on there. If you had the chance to add an artist to the soundtrack, who would you add?
Mitchell: Oh my gosh. That’s a tough question.
Dohrn: I’ve never heard that question.
Mitchell: We are overflowing with artists. We got Justin Timberlake, he made that hit song ["Can't Stop This Feeling"]
Dohrn: Yeah, he wrote a song for her [“Hair Up” and “What U Workin’ With?”], and he wrote a song for Ariana Grande [“They Don’t Know”]. And plus all of our cast is so great.
Mitchell: Earth, Wind & Fire, they worked on this movie as well.
Dohrn: Actually, Justin recorded with Earth, Wind & Fire – that was on his bucket list. So there wasn’t anybody that we wanted that we didn’t get.
Dohrn: Zooey Deschanel, she has that band She & Him, and we were just huge fans of that. So we really got to work with everyone we wanted to.
Mitchell: James Corden, too. I can’t. That’s an impossible question to ask because we’re overflowed.
Dohrn: I wouldn’t have minded working with Brian Wilson or Prince. I’m such a huge Prince fan.
Mitchell: Prince would be amazing.
Dohrn: We lost him during this time.
Mitchell: Michael Jackson, he would fit right into this movie.
Dohrn: Which is why it was great working with Justin, because he totally carries on that Michael Jackson torch.
NBN: Yeah, he made the song "Love Never Felt so Good” with him.
Mitchell: Yeah, that’s right. He’s almost a part of that, right?
NBN: Yeah. Well, cool. So I kind of already have half of an answer to this next question, because Walt was in the movie as the cloud character, right?
Dohrn: Yeah, right, yeah.
NBN: So if you were in the Trolls universe then Mike, do you think that you would be a troll, or a Bergen, or something else entirely?
Mitchell: Unfortunately, I think I would be a Bergen, because the way that we made this film is Walt is very much like Poppy –
Mitchell: And I’m very much like Branch. So I’m like a cup half-full, and he’s a cup overflowing.
Dohrn: Well, I believe in the power of optimism, and optimism is actually a practical tool. Even in the movie, Poppy has this optimistic attitude that her friends are alive, and she does, she goes and she saves them. The pessimist goes, “They’re dead,” so they would never get saved.
Mitchell: I was never that pessimistic, to be fair. I was never like, “Let’s not even make this film.”
Dohrn: Eh, maybe some days. Those are extreme attitudes, for storytelling reasons. And I know we’re all a little bit of both these characters.
Mitchell: I’ve been transformed by you, Poppy. Look at this, I’m happy now. Can’t you tell?
NBN: Yeah, definitely.
Dohrn: I really believe this stuff. Optimism is practical and it’s powerful. Justin, believe me.
Mitchell: Well that’s what made us make this film, is like, there’s a lot of dark stuff out there, and especially the internet is so negative and judgemental. We really wanted to do something not just for kids, but for everyone, that makes them feel good and talk about how valuable a positive attitude is.
NBN: So I guess that leads into my wrap up question for all this. I work for a college publication, obviously, so why do you think that college students in particular should see this film?
Mitchell: Well it’s weird because we have been taking it around to colleges, and we’ve noticed that the college kids are going crazy for it. One, it’s strange to see people dancing in the theater. I don’t understand that at all, but the college kids are dancing in the theater.
Dohrn: I think they’re drawn to the psychedelic world and the unexpected humor in the film.
Mitchell: The weird, irreverent comedy. But also, I think for college kids now, you’re about to enter a world and a workplace that seems really against you and negative and judgemental. And i think this movie, what I hope it does – not just for kids, but for older kids – is, “Hey, the world isn’t all negative. There’s another side to things that are positive.” You guys, when you enter the workplace, should have a super-positive attitude like Poppy because it will take you further than you ever imagine.
Dohrn: I like that. I mean, the world is a fantastic, fun and funky place.
Mitchell: But no one talks about it.
Dohrn: And better to embrace it.
Mitchell: No one talks about that. All the media is dark.
Dohrn: They’re like, “It’s harsh and it’s against you.”
Mitchell: Well, every movie has the world crumbling at the end. I don’t understand that. It’s like, “Let’s celebrate this place.”
Dohrn: Really, we’re given life, and life is this –
Mitchell: I sound like a hippy.
Dohrn: Well life is this fragile gift, and it’s so amazing and weird and funky, and so let’s just enjoy it.
Mitchell: We should enjoy it.
Dohrn: Go and enjoy it, Justin!
Mitchell: Consciously enjoy your life.
NBN: That was definitely one of the things I noticed walking out of the movie. I was just like, “That was great. I’m happy. I’m refreshed.”
Mitchell: Did you feel better? Did it make you feel better?
NBN: Yeah! I was stressed out with midterms and everything, but then I was like, “This is great. That was what I needed.”
Mitchell: I like Justin’s words, refreshed. He was refreshed.
Dohrn: I like that it’s only 92 minutes of your life. It’s just a short burst, a short blast of happiness.
Mitchell: Why not? Who doesn’t like that?
Dohrn: I like that.
NBN: Well, thank you so much for being able to talk.
Mitchell: No, thank you. It’s great to meet you. North by Northwestern.
Dohrn: Check it out, it’s a great movie.
Trolls will be released in theatres nationwide on Friday, November 4th.