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I'm too damn grumpy to watch "Trolls" (2016)

Sure, I'm picking a stupid fight.  I know it.  Complaining about kids' movies on the Internet is kinda like handing out social justice pamphlets at a Trump rally.  I don't care.  It's my blog and if there's any place where it's safe for me to grouse, it's here.

And sure, I get that most people aren't going to see Trolls for a dose of moral fiber.  I understand that the main objective is to see bright colors and sparkles and listen to bubblegumified remixes of classic Euro EDM.  Mission accomplished.  Great.

But why you gotta be so shallow, Trolls?

The main thrust of the movie is happiness.  The supposed bad guys, the Bergens, appear to be wholly incapable of happiness, whereas the supposed good guys, the Trolls, are overflowing with it. The one way the Bergens know to achieve that feeling is to eat Trolls.  To that end, they have an annual celebration called "Trollstice" where they each eat a Troll.  But then the Trolls escape.  Cue conflict.

Spoilers, but it ends with the Bergens realizing that they don't need to eat Trolls to feel happiness after all.  Turns out, the happiness was inside of them all along, and they just need to awake their inner joy with love and dancing and music.  Everybody lives happily ever after, except for the one truly bad guy from each tribe, who both end up getting eaten by some arbitrary monster in the forest.

Too bad it's all bullshit.

See, Trolls was part of the way toward a good lesson for kids - and some good meta-commentary, too.  On the surface, this is a story about how we attempt to fill holes in our lives with fleeting tokens, but they don't actually make us truly happy; only by rejecting those superficial things and digging deeper can we find true joy.  That's a great lesson.  But it falls flat.


For one thing, traditions aren't the problem - even seemingly stupid ones that have grim histories behind them.  Traditions are all well and good.  Traditions bring communities together and give you something to look forward to each year.  And sure, an annual custom based on eating people is not the way to go, but Trollstice as a concept isn't the problem - you just have to do what the Christians did and throw out the gross parts, then co-opt somebody else's cool shit and make it a more inclusive holiday.

But more importantly: who the hell ever said that happiness was even important?

Happiness isn't "inside" everyone.  Most of us can't be bothered, and some of us are honestly incapable of feeling it.  And you know what?  That's fine.  Happiness is overrated.  Happiness is nothing more than the pleasant side effect you sometimes get when you're living your life well.

Teaching people - especially small kids - that they need to awaken some inner sense of happiness is just... mean.  It's a carrot on the end of a stick that you'll never get.  It's like teaching little girls that their wedding day is the most important day of their lives, and if it isn't perfect and shiny and glamorous, then they've failed.  You've missed the point, guys.

Life isn't about happiness.  Life isn't about music and dancing and singing.  Life isn't even about love or togetherness.  It's purely about figuring out the things that make you useful and then doing that for as long as you possibly can.  It's about enrichment and contentment.  You go chasing happiness and you just end up lost and disappointed.  Go chase a dream and you fly.

And sure, those are some deep lessons that would be pretty hard to pin down into a kids' movie... but why not try?  The Little Prince did it pretty well.  Inside Out touched on it a bit, at least long enough to make it clear that happiness is just one part of a bigger picture.  Ratatouille, Toy Story, Wreck-It Ralph, Up, even the Kung Fu Panda movies all touched on those lessons in some capacity and they're all fantastic.

Please don't lie to my kids, Trolls.  They're going to grow up in a world marked by apocalyptic-level problems with psychotropic drugs and shitty motivational posters all over the place.  I don't want them to get distracted by the easy answers.  Happiness isn't just a matter of finding the right song to sing or the right person to hang out with.  Happiness is a convoluted mess of deception and complicated choices.  Telling children anything else is a quick way to ruin them.

You know how to make your movie way better, Trolls?  Don't make the Bergens eat the Trolls.  Make it so that they buy and enslave the Trolls instead, and they spend all their time and money buying shitty plastic accessories and forcing the Trolls to live in stupid dollhouses, each one more expensive than the last.  Make it so that the Bergens think they're happy because they keep spending all their hard-earned cash on collectible nonsense.  And then one day, the poorest Bergen who can't afford any cool Troll stuff decides to just talk to her Troll instead, and they quickly become the best of friends.  Then you spend the rest of the movie building up that relationship and using the iconography of blatant, crass commercialism to condemn itself.

That's a lesson kids could use.  And you weren't too terribly far off.  But man, what a mis-step.

Sigh.  The worst part is, I know Lulabelle is going to be watching this again.  And again.  And again.  At least it doesn't teach xenophobia like Angry Birds did.