When actor Justin Timberlake was approached to voice the character of Branch in the animated film, Trolls, he was also pitched the idea of making the music “exciting.” Timberlake thought producing the music would be an “amazing opportunity,” but quickly realized he was taking on a lot of work and responsibility.
Halfway kidding he admitted, “I didn’t want the blame if it didn’t work out.” Ultimately, it all came together and he had fun working on the music, trying to make the characters as funny as possible. Timberlake feels there is a place for music in films even more now than during the Golden Age of Hollywood, saying, “That’s exciting to me.”
When Timberlake joined the production, the director Mike Mitchell had already been listening to hundreds of songs, trying to find the perfect needle-drop music for the film’s musical set-pieces, because in any great musical, story doesn’t stop for the musical number; whatever the song is saying continues the story. The production had already secured familiar songs such as Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”
“When I saw ‘True Colors’ in there I was like, ‘There is no way you will find anything better. I hope you guys cleared that,’” revealed Timberlake. “Choosing ‘September’ to be bookends on the movie was something Mike and I pitched back and forth. We took it to everyone else and they loved the idea.”
Timberlake helped fill in the song list for the film, although a lot of music – medleys of songs he put together for certain moments – did not make it into the movie due to time constraints. (Keep you eyes and ears open for Trolls 2).
In addition to the director and music producer Eric Goldman, a team of people was already collaborating on the music when Timberlake joined the production. With the focus on characters and story, the classic songs were freshened up by new arrangements that gave the old tunes a new sound.
Many of the songs were not just sung by Timberlake and co-stars Anna Kendrick and Zooey Deschanel, but were ensemble pieces sung by a chorus of characters that included Christine Baranki, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani and John Cleese. Music recording was done in much the same way as the voice recording was done for the animation.
“The same way the actors would do voice sessions for their characters, they would come in on days that they were available. I would come in and record their voices on the songs and make sure it sounded that way we wanted it to sound,” shared Timberlake. “I’m lucky because all the cast can sing very well. Zooey Deschanel does an amazing vocal and comedic performance with Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello.’ She really went for it. That was the least challenging part. I felt it was kind of an embarrassment of riches because of the cast I had.”
Timberlake produced three original songs for the movie. The most challenging part was writing the film’s finale, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” Timberlake stated he had never had a writing experience quite like he had creating that song because it had such a specific emotional pretense.
“I think I put a lot of pressure on myself because, ironically, this was the first time I was songwriting and acting in the same movie,” shared Timberlake. “I really wanted it to get great.”
With an Oscar nomination for the song, it seems Timberlake has succeeded.