Stop me before I pun again.
It’s a mantra that I dearly wish the creators of the third installment in the hugely successful animated Trolls series had taken to heart. Capitalizing on the fact that one of the film’s main voice stars, Justin Timberlake, was formerly a member of one of the biggest boy bands in pop history, Trolls Band Together is stuffed with so many groan-worthy punning jokes and one-liners referencing such bands from the ‘90s and other eras that you wonder whether the film was made for its target tyke audience or their parents. Many of the latter will at least enjoy the pop culture nostalgia while enduring the perfunctory storyline.
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You have to admire Timberlake for being willing to make fun of his showbiz past. The plot involves the revelation that his character, Branch, was once the baby (literally) member of BroZone, a mega-successful boy band featuring his four brothers, who disbanded, leaving him with a resentful feeling of abandonment (not quite how it worked out with NSYNC, but that’s another story). Branch’s now-significant other Poppy (Anna Kendrick) becomes aware of his celebrity past when his brother Floyd (Troye Sivan) is kidnapped by a pair of evil pop stars, Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells), who want to exploit his talents. So Branch must reunite with his other siblings — John Dory (Eric Andre), Spruce (Daveed Diggs) and Clay (Kid Cudi) — to rescue Floyd from their clutches.
That’s but one of several storylines, including the nuptials of Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) and Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plass) and the sudden appearance of Viva (Camila Cabello), who turns out to be the sister that Poppy never knew she had. Some of the characters from the previous films have either been dropped or make only token appearances (James Corden seems to have left the building), while the new ones include Crimp (Zosia Mamet), Velvet and Veneer’s overworked assistant, who vents her frustrations with a passionate rendition of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.”
The song is one of an endless series of musical numbers featuring tunes both old and new, but with an emphasis on the former. The pop earworms, performed energetically by the trolls in annoying high voices, are sprightly enough, and include just about every hit from a boy, girl or family band you can think of. But the musical novelty has somewhat worn off, and nothing on the soundtrack matches the endless catchiness of “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from the first film — including the much ballyhooed “Better Place,” for which NSYNC reunited.
The over-talented voice cast go through their paces with admirable enthusiasm, but all are overshadowed by the hilarity of Kenan Thompson as the wisecracking infant Tiny Diamond, who keeps offering Patch hits of his pacifier as if it were an opium pipe.
Elizabeth Tippet’s screenplay garners laughs thanks to the sheer volume of jokes (the hit-to-miss ratio is pretty unbalanced), and there are several amusing one-liners about the music business. Those include one character’s lament that there are few possibilities left in his career other than “a desperate Christmas album or one-off National Anthem performance.”
The computer animation, as with the previous efforts, is vibrant and colorful, with one highlight being a hand-drawn psychedelic sequence set to the disco classic “The Hustle.” But how much you’ll enjoy the visuals will depend on your appreciation of trolls, which are not exactly the most appealing of creatures. I’ll take a minion any day.
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