OK, so “Trolls World Tour” is a candy-colored animated confection that has the nutritional value of soda pop and will stay in the memory as long as cotton candy lingers on the tongue.
But after nearly a month of no new Hollywood movies — not since the global coronavirus pandemic forced movie theaters to close, along with everything else fun — it’s enough of an entertainment to tickle the brain’s pleasure centers with its rainbow barrage of playfulness.
And it’s safe to see, not just in the family-friendly sense, but in our current, virus-fearing definition of the word. Universal Pictures (a subsidiary of Comcast) opted to debut the movie on demand in people’s homes starting Friday — the day it would have opened in theaters, if any theaters were operating.
In the industry, the months between a movie’s release date in theaters and when it can be seen at home is called the “theatrical window.” Closing that window, as “Trolls World Tour” does, is seen by exhibitors as an act of war, a blight against the moviegoing experience. Theater owners may make Universal pay for what they’ve done — but that’s a fight for another day.
The fight within “Trolls World Tour” is among the factions of the Troll world, which is divided by musical genres. The first “Trolls” movie, back in 2016, was set in the realm of Pop Trolls, who spent every happy day singing pop songs (like Justin Timberlake’s Oscar-nominated “Can’t Stop the Feeling”). In that movie, the perpetually optimistic Princess Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) warmed the heart of her kingdom’s one pessimist, Branch (voiced by Timberlake), just in time for them to save Pop Village from nasty giants.
In this sequel, Poppy is now queen, and learns a previously hidden part of Troll lore, about the existence of other Trolls. Once upon a time, all Trolls lived harmoniously, their music guided by six strings, one for each genre of music — pop, classical, country, techno, funk and rock — until conflict over music sent the Trolls into separate kingdoms, each taking one string.
The reason this matters now is that Queen Barb (voiced by Rachel Bloom), leader of the Rock Trolls, is on a mission to steal the other five strings, thus destroying all music except “hard rock.” I use quotation marks here because having the star of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” singing a family-friendly cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” isn’t exactly Norwegian death metal.
Queen Poppy thinks that if she talks to Barb, they’ll be best buddies and all will be right with the Troll world — which could be a byproduct of spending one’s days singing medleys of silly pop songs. So she ventures out of Pop Village, despite warnings of doom from Branch, who both distrusts Barb’s motives and harbors an unspoken crush on Poppy.
Thus does a tag-teamed script (credited to five writers) bounce our characters through the lands of classical and country music, onto a spaceship of funk (where the king and queen are voiced, naturally, by George Clinton and Mary J. Blige), and ultimately into Barb’s lair, a volcano-turned-stadium. (Remember stadiums? Remember rock concerts?) The humor has its ups and downs, the plot moves haltingly, and there’s a plot twist around the less-savory aspects of pop music that will sail over young viewers’ heads but bring a wry smile to the most jaded music critic.
Director Walt Dohrn, a DreamWorks animation veteran who co-directed the first “Trolls,” makes the whole thing move briskly, rarely leaving time to be bored. He also assembles an odd voice cast, including Sam Rockwell as a cowboy Troll and “Saturday Night Live’s” Kenan Thompson as a rapping baby Troll called Tiny Diamond.
Like the first “Trolls,” “Trolls World Tour” relies on Timberlake, this time pairing with composer Ludwig Göransson (“Black Panther”), to pen new tunes and stitch together pop songs, a jukebox that ranges from Beethoven to Baha Men. The results are fun and frivolous — just what families stuck in the house for weeks need to distract them right now.
‘Trolls World Tour’
The high-haired little creatures return for a tuneful adventure, this time battling the evil forces of “hard rock.”
Where • Rental on demand, in homes anywhere, for $19.99 from Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play, Xfinity and other streaming services.
When • Starting Friday, April 10.
Rated • PG for some mild rude humor.
Running time • 91 minutes.