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Genre wars: ‘Trolls World Tour’ features musical pixie clans battling for sonic domination

Poppy, voiced by Anna Kendrick, and Branch, voiced by Justin Timberlake, and in a scene from “Trolls World Tour.” (Courtesy of Dreamworks Animation)

Music snobbery is making a comeback.

On the heels of the excellent serial remake of “High Fidelity,” about a tasteful Brooklyn record store owner, comes “Trolls World Tour,” in which pixie clans, each representing a music genre, compete for sonic domination. Both are quaint in their own way, pretending that our musical borders didn’t years ago disintegrate into a digital soup.

“Trolls World Tour,” a sequel to the 2016 DreamWorks original, had been planned for theatrical release before the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, Universal Pictures instead released it straight into the home, as a $19.99 digital rental – a rare breaking of the theatrical release window by a major studio.

That makes “Trolls World Tour” a kind of trial balloon, albeit a very glittery one. Is it worth it? That may depend on just how bored your housebound kids are. It is, at least, a shiny new object when there are few about.

Directed by Walt Dohrn, with co-director David P. Smith, “Trolls World Tour” is a sped-up version of the jukebox musical. It runs through so many songs that it might be better called a Spotify musical.

Both “Trolls” movies can be hard to look at. They’re so garishly colored that I’d recommend dimming your TV set. But when they’re not too loud and you’ve sufficiently shielded your eyes, their sugary highs are pleasant enough and occasionally tuneful. An animated movie can do worse than indoctrinate another generation to the joys of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September.”

In “World Tour,” our original clan, including Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake), discover a wider world of trolls. The trolls we know believe in the power of pop, but it turns out there are others out there devoted to techno, classical, country, funk and rock. There are even other pockets they find along the way, too, including those for hip-hop, reggaeton and even dedicated yodelers. (Unfortunately, there are no cameos for Prog Rock or Crunk.)

Barb, voiced by Rachel Bloom, and King Thrash, voiced by Ozzy Osbourne, in a scene from “Trolls World Tour.” (Courtesy of Dreamworks Animation)

It’s the Rock Trolls who start the trouble in “World Tour.” Their leader, Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom), sets out to dominate the other groups. Armed with heavy-metal power chords and Metallica-esque bombast, Queen Barb plots a rock reign to drown out the other styles.

The plot gives “World Tour” an opportunity to cycle through countless hits, which it does so speedily that the film often feels less like a story than an impatient, candy-colored battle of the bands. When it slows down and allows more than a snippet of a song, “Trolls World Tour” is more enjoyable. There’s a good hip-hop interlude and a fine Kelly Clarkson country ballad.

Both “Trolls” movies exuberantly exalt the glories of diversity, and maybe some young ones will get a decent primer on a musical landscape far more vast than Kidz Bop. But “World Tour” can also sound like a bad Grammy medley that puts every genre into a blender until all the taste is rung out.

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