In Trolls, director Mike Mitchell and co-director Walt Dohrn create a psychedelic playground filled with musical glee for Thomas Dam’s iconic dolls, taking a nostalgic romp back to the 60’s and 70’s that all ages can enjoy.
The story revolves around the tiny Trolls, who are in a perpetual state of happiness, and the giant Bergens that derive their only pleasure by eating Trolls. When not scrapbooking, Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) joyfully bursts into song and dance. Survivalist Branch (Justin Timberlake) refuses to sing, acting as glum as Poppy is happy. When the Bergens discover their hidden village, the two pair up in a quest to save their friends from becoming a Bergen feast. An all-star cast, including Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski and Russell Brand, joined Kendrick and Timberlake to voice the other characters.
“We started with just the troll doll with hair. There was no backstory, no mythology, no world that belonged to that character, even though you played with it as a child,” stated Mitchell. “We got to create a whole fairy tale world. We thought it would be really cool to just give it this hand-crafted feel. Kind of fuzzy immersion.”
Deciding what the world was going to look and feel like was key to the design process that included storyboard artists, animators, production designer, Kendal Cronkhite-Shaindlin, who crafted backgrounds, art director Timothy Lamb, who designed creatures, and visual development artist Pricilla Wong, who fashioned scrapbooks by hand before they were scanned into the computer.
Current CGI technology can make things look extremely realistic. The team went the opposite way with technology, using dazzling colors, fabric textures and lots of glitter. The trolls are like gummy bears that have been flocked in velvet. The world, instead of being realistic, is made of fiber art. Trees are covered in felt. The ground is covered in carpet instead of grass. Houses are made of hair. Even fire is made of hair.
“It felt like a creative way into this world,” shared Mitchell. “There were no rules. We decided to keep this ‘70’s hand-crafted esthetic.”
Mitchell referred to Trolls as a “needle-drop musical.” With much of the music chosen in development, the film is filled with set pieces, using familiar songs such as Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”. In any great musical, story doesn’t stop for the musical number; whatever the song is saying continues the story. Mitchell admits that he listened to thousands of songs to make sure they had the right song for the right moment in the story.
“We were fortunate. When I pitched Justin Timberlake, we pitched him some of the music. We already had Earth, Wind and Fire. We definitely had the Cyndi Lauper song in it,” shared Mitchell. “He got really excited about the music and knew exactly what we were doing and wanted to be a part of it. He offered not only to be a voice and lead actor, but to become our music producer, which took me about a half-second to say, ‘yes, please!’”
Timberlake produced three original songs for the movie. It was especially difficult to find the perfect song to express the emotions at the finale so Timberlake wrote, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”
Making an animated film is truly a collaborative adventure that can take years and numerous iterations. Mitchell explained, “It feels more like workshopping a play. It’s very fluid. Anything can change at any time. It can be achieved with a capable crew.