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Trolls Band Together (2023)::rating::3::rating::3

After three movies, the Trolls franchise has settled deep into formula:  Take a legion of fuzzy, butt-wiggling Happy Meal toys and build them a Spotify playlist of FM hits from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  Add a vibrant palate of a million Candy Crush colors and…voila!  You’ve got a passably entertaining experience for kids and grown-ups alike.  Band Together may not be on par with Finding Nemo, but it ain’t three hours of YouTube brats unboxing Hot Wheels, either.

Ordinarily, this is where I’d offer a cute comment on how you’re not neck-deep in a Trolls review by choice.  No, you’re a parent, and you just want to know what will be on the screen as your toddler dumps popcorn on the floor and sugar-rages in the aisles.  Welp, I’ve got a surprise for you, gang:  The makers behind Trolls 3 toss a wicked curveball by adding a can’t-miss reason for 90s parents to see the film.

NSYNC is getting back together!  That’s right, TRL’ers–JT, JC, Lance Bass, and…, that guy that’s married to Jessica Simpson?  Or, uh, that kid from Blossom?  Hell, I don’t know.  I was a Spice Girls man, myself.  Anyway, if you always wanted to see your favorite boy band as cuddly cartoon characters, Band Together makes an offer you can’t refuse.

The story is a variation of the previous Trolls installments, albeit with a smidge less meat on the bone.  This flick begins with royal wedding of Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), the Bergen BFFs of the first flick.  The gnarly nuptials have barely kicked off when a mysterious Troll crashes the party.  Turns out, he’s John Dory (Eric Andre), older brother of Branch (Justin Timberlake).  It seems that our favorite troll grouch was once in BroZone, a bubblegum boy band. BroZone once graced every teen beat magazine, until they had a creative falling out.

Now, John Dory arrives with an urgent mission:  Floyd (Troye Sivan) has been kidnapped by teenage wannabes (Andrew Rannells and Amy Schumer) who sap his talent to fuel their own careers.  To rescue Floyd, Branch will have to confront his complex relationship with his brothers, while also maintaining a fragile, burgeoning relationship with Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick).

Anyone who’s paid the troll toll to travel this far might find it strange that I’m just now mentioning Poppy.  For the first two movies, she’s been the spiritual and aesthetic center of the franchise.   The Troll-verse has been bright and sugary because we’ve seen it through her eyes.  This time, the story is driven by Branch, which results in a story that’s slightly grayer and more jaded.

It’s also a little more mechanical.  The first Trolls flick felt like something new, housed within the body of something old:  Yes, it was adorable, but it had a pop culture savvy that flowed through the wacky-but-tasteful soundtrack.  How else could Earth, Wind, and Fire live next to Simon and Garfunkel and Cyndi Lauper under one roof?  The second film was just as lively, but not as fresh.  Here, the diminishing returns continue.    There’s nothing bad about Band Together, but there’s also nothing vital about it, ether.  The new NSYNC song sounds great, but you can skip straight to Spotify for that.

But let’s be real:  If you have kids, you’re probably gonna see Trolls 3.  That goes ditto if you’re an NSYNC fan.  For the film’s target demographic, this is solid, predictable, and nothing more.  For superfans who voted up “Bye Bye Bye” on TRL, you can probably add a full star to my review.  As for everybody else, well…it’s gonna be meh.

92 min.  PG.  In theaters.

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