How ‘Trolls Band Together’ Brought Its Psychedelic Bus to Life

For a franchise inspired by a line of dolls defined almost exclusively by their freakish hairstyles, the “Trolls” films are surprisingly entertaining. The latest installment of the franchise, “Trolls Band Together,” is no exception.

It dives deep into Branch’s (Justin Timberlake) backstory, tracing his past as a member of a boy band called BroZone. He has to reconcile with his history when his former band members/brothers are abducted, their creative life force being syphoned by a couple of talentless hacks named Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells).

Walt Dohrn, who was a codirector on the first “Trolls” and directed the sequels, told TheWrap that they had wanted to tell the story of Branch’s family. For a while it was going to be the narrative backbone of the previous film, “Trolls World Tour,” until they decided to focus on the other musical genres inside the Trolls universe. In the meantime, Dohrn and his producer Gina Shay told the other teams working on “Trolls” material (there have been several television series) to stay away from that particular part of the mythology. When the third film came around, Dohrn said, “We finally found the moment to tell it.”

“Trolls Band Together” also advances the arts-and-crafts aesthetics of the previous films, which give a handmade, tactile dimension to the animation. This time around, they visit Vacation Island, where everything is made of things that you’d find in a resort, like pool floaties and beach balls.

And then there’s Mount Rageous, home to the villains — and the movie’s most complicated sequence, a car race that combines a rock concert with “Mad Max: Fury Road.” (Originally the movie ended with a concert, which felt too much like “Trolls World Tour.”)

“This was a wild technical thing,” Dohrn said. “They hadn’t really built the city to drive cars all along the roads, especially cars with no gravity. It became a bigger challenge than we thought with what time we had left. But it’s still my favorite sequence. It blows me away.”

Another of the movie’s more memorable sequences takes a decidedly old-school approach. The trolls travel in a living bus called Rhonda. (Dohrn said it’s the movie’s Millennium Falcon.) In order to get to their destination, they engage Rhonda’s warp drive and are sent veering into a world of 2-D animation. In the “Trolls” world, this trip into animation’s past might be its most thrilling detour yet.

Rhonda was designed by an artist named Dave Cooper, who drew the character in 2-D. They called on the artists at Titmouse to handle the animation for the sequence.

“It was a really nice opportunity to do some 2-D animation,” Dohrn said. “And I had worked with Titmouse before. It felt like their tone — very psychedelic, suiting the trippy stuff we wanted to do. It just naturally came together. But then we were like, ‘Oh, it’s so beautiful and so great, we got to have a callback to it in Act 3.’ And then I felt like, ‘OK, now we’re being greedy. We’re doing too much.’”

In the end, they couldn’t resist doing the reprise.

This story first appeared in the Awards Preview issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Awards Preview issue here.

Ava DuVernay (Maya Iman)

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