Beware The Hair: Trolls Hit The Big Screen — And Bring Scrapbooks With Them

Nov 5, 2016
Originally published on November 5, 2016 8:16 am

Troll dolls, those novelty toys with fluorescent Don King hair, are now the stars of their own movie. It's a balance between feel-good fun and the kind of offbeat humor that aims to keep adults in their seats.

Tending to these relentlessly charming creatures is veteran animator Mike Mitchell. He's worked with many different, er, species (a sponge, chipmunks, ogres) in his career. Mitchell claims Shrek is the most difficult of all of them. Trolls, he says, are by far the easiest. That's because Mitchell made all of these stubby little creatures — save one named Branch — extremely happy. Think pink, yellow and purple happy. The trolls sing and dance and have regular "hug times."

Mitchell says he never collected trolls, so he did some homework. The first Troll doll was made in 1959 by a poor, Danish woodcarver named Thomas Dam. Dam's daughter was afraid of the greedy, baby-snatching trolls who live under bridges in story books. "So he decided to create a new kind of troll, one with outstretched arms, a smile, ready for a hug," says Mitchell.

In the Trolls' village in the film, the leader of "hug time" is the fluorescent pink heroine, Princess Poppy. She's every trolls' cheerleader. Think Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm meets My Little Pony. Her favorite hobby: Scrapbooking.

Since Mitchell wanted everything in the movie to look and feel handmade, the job of creating those scrapbooks fell to a very skeptical Priscilla Wong: "I'm like, 'Scrapbooking? Isn't that kind of what grandmothers do?' "

But Wong, a visual development artist for DreamWorks, knew she shared the same irreverent humor as the others working on Trolls.

"It's like magical creatures barfing rainbows and pooping cupcakes. That kind of sums up my aesthetic," she laughs.

For the first attempt at a scrapbook, Wong says she used aluminum foil, old candy, crinkled paper and scraps of faux fur. "The directors joked that it looked like I took roadkill and scrapbooked it," she admits. So she went back to the drawing board and ended up using your basic, store-bought materials: Colored felt and paper.

When Princess Poppy isn't scrapbooking or pepping up her friends or initiating hug time, she and her fellow trolls are singing and dancing. News flash: That Justin Timberlake song "Can't Stop The Feeling" was originally written for Trolls.

"I mean, he said he was going to make it a hit, and I laughed at him. But, lo and behold, I guess that's what Justin Timberlake does," says Mitchell. Timberlake, who also served as the movie's executive music producer, voices the pessimistic troll Branch in the film.

With that "sunshine" in their "pockets," as the song goes, the trolls are prey for the Bergens, gigantic monsters with bad teeth, designed in colors like grey and avocado green. The miserable creatures hunt and eat trolls because they want their happiness. The Bergens' anthem is the sardonic Gorillaz single "Clint Eastwood," first released in 2001 — a bit of edgy nostalgia for restless parents.

Ultimately, Trolls is not a battle between good and evil, but rather between gloom and glitter. Mike Mitchell thinks we need a story right now about finding happiness.

"I find all of the news — and most media and the Internet — is so dark and it's so depressing. It's so scary, not just for kids but for me," he says. "So I just wanted to make a film that really just makes people think about happiness. Let's not undervalue a positive attitude, and let's explore happiness and maybe discover that we're in charge — and that happiness is deep down inside every one of us."

If that means making a movie with scrapbooking trolls and cute creatures that poop cupcakes, so be it.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Trolls, those dolls with fluorescent Don King hair, are the stars of a new movie "Trolls." NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports the balance between fun and offbeat humor may keep adults in their seats.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: "Trolls" director Mike Mitchell has worked with a lot of different species.

So you have worked with a sponge...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER")

TOM KENNY: (As SpongeBob SquarePants) Who wants a crabby patty?

BLAIR: ...Chipmunks...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED")

JUSTIN LONG: (As Alvin) I can see Russia from here.

BLAIR: You've worked with an ogre...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SHREK FOREVER AFTER")

EDDIE MURPHY: (As Donkey) Hey, everybody, Shrek's going to do his famous ogre roar.

MIKE MYERS: (As Shrek) Not now, Donkey.

BLAIR: ...And now "Trolls." and who's the hardest to work with?

MIKE MITCHELL: Oh, by far that ogre Shrek is very difficult, but I have to say the easiest to work with are the trolls.

BLAIR: Because these trolls are happy. They're always singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TROLLS")

ANNA KENDRICK: (As Poppy, singing) I'm coming out. I'm coming.

BLAIR: We'll get to that happy place, but first, a little background. A troll doll is...

MITCHELL: It's a stubby, little-bodied creature with this shock of hair.

BLAIR: The first one was made in 1959 by a poor Danish woodcarver named Thomas Dam. Dam's daughter was afraid of the trolls in story books - you know, those baby-snatching trolls who live under bridges.

MITCHELL: So he decided to create a new kind of troll, one with outstretched arms and a smile, ready for a hug.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TROLLS")

KENDRICK: (As Poppy) Hug time.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) It is hug time.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS #1: (As characters) Hug time, hug time.

BLAIR: Leading hug time is Princess Poppy, the fluorescent pink heroine of the movie. She's every troll's cheerleader. She's "Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm" meets My Little Pony. She's really into scrapbooking.

PRISCILLA WONG: And, like, scrapbooking, isn't that kind of what, like, grandmothers do?

BLAIR: Priscilla Wong is a visual development artist for DreamWorks. She was given the job of creating the scrapbooks. Even though she was skeptical, she understood how to make that relentless charm edgy.

WONG: It's irreverent. It's magical creatures, like, barfing rainbows and, like, pooping cupcakes (laughter).

BLAIR: Mike Mitchell insisted that everything in "Trolls" be handmade. So Wong says she first made a scrapbook using things like aluminum foil, old candy, crinkled paper and scraps of faux fur.

WONG: The directors joked that it looked like I found roadkill (laughter) and scrapbooked it.

BLAIR: So she went back to the drawing board and ended up using your basic store-bought materials - colored felt and paper. When Poppy isn't scrapbooking or pepping up her friends, she's singing and dancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TROLLS")

KENDRICK: (As Poppy, singing) I've got this feeling inside my bones. It goes electric wavy when I turn it on.

BLAIR: Newsflash - Justin Timberlake, who stars in the movie, originally wrote this song for "Trolls."

MITCHELL: I mean, he said he was going to make it a hit song, and I laughed at him. But lo and behold, I guess that's what Justin Timberlake does.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TROLLS")

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: (As Branch) I've got that sunshine in my pocket, got that good soul in my feet. I feel that hot blood in body when it drops - ooo.

BLAIR: With that sunshine in their pockets, the trolls are prey for the Bergens, gigantic monsters with bad teeth designed in colors like gray and avocado green. The Bergens eat trolls because they want their happiness. And the song the Bergens sing is another example of how Mike Mitchell winks to the adults in the audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TROLLS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS #2: (As characters, singing) I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad. I got sunshine in a bag. I'm useless but not for long. The future is coming on. I ain't happy...

BLAIR: This is a cover of a song by the edgy, animated British hip-hop group Gorillaz, first popular in the early 2000s, so a bit of nostalgia for some of today's parents. "Trolls" is not a battle between good and evil but between gloom and glitter. Mike Mitchell thinks we need a story right now about finding happiness.

MITCHELL: I find, like, all the news and most media and the internet, it's so dark and it's so depressing and it's so scary, not just for kids but for me. And I just wanted to make some film that really just made people think about happiness. Let's not undervalue a positive attitude, and let's explore happiness and maybe discover that we're in charge and that happiness is deep down inside every one of us.

BLAIR: If that means trolls and scrapbooks and pooping cupcakes, so be it. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.