It's oh so clear about nine minutes into “Trolls World Tour,” when the glitter’s flowing and lovable creatures are crooning “Trolls Want to Have Fun,” that the animated sequel is a sugary-sweet cure for the quarantine blues.
Unlike pretty much every other major studio movie during the time of coronavirus, “Trolls World Tour” (★★★ out of four; rated PG; available for rent on digital platforms such as iTunes and Vudu) decided for a streaming release rather than wait for a conventional theatrical window, and it’s a gambit that pays off, especially for audiences who dig fun tunes and neon-drenched fantasy adventure. While not quite as subversive and refreshing as the first “Trolls,” “World Tour” offers endless cuteness, an impressive voice cast and just enough depth for grown-ups and children alike to chew on.
Need a coronavirus escape?: Here are 100 movies to watch for every cinematic yearning
The original 2016 “Trolls” centered on embracing one’s community, while the sequel finds its main characters, Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake), figuring out their roles in a bigger landscape. Poppy is queen of the Pop Trolls and Branch is still living in an underground bunker like a doomsday prepper – who knew THAT would be so relatable now? – yet they can’t quite find a harmonious connection between them.
That theme is reflected on a larger scale when the Pop Trolls learn they are one of six tribes tied to a different musical genre – in addition, there’s Techno, Country, Hard Rock, Funk and Classical Trolls – and each group boasts a different string, a reminder of how they used to be together until musical differences tore them apart.
Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom), a mohawked metalhead with attitude, has sinister aspirations of “one nation of Trolls under rock,” and she’s on a world tour invading all the tribes so she can attach all six strings to her ax and play the ultimate power chord, turning everybody into rock zombies. The ever-peppy Poppy believes everyone can live in harmony, the skeptical Branch argues that the strings lead to fighting and Barb is a major threat to everything they know and love.
Directed by Walt Dohrn, “World Tour” features a ton of recognizable songs from each of the associated genres, plus some originals. There’s no earworm-y “Can’t Stop the Feeling” this time, though “Perfect for Me” is a decent love ballad for Branch and Poppy.
The A-list guest stars are also top-notch: You can’t beat George Clinton and Mary J. Blige as Quincy and Essence, the funky rulers of the spaceship Bop City; and Kelly Clarkson voices Delta Dawn, the mayor of country-fried Lonesome Flats. It’s Bloom’s Barb, though, who brings the most pure energy to the sequel. (Metal god Ozzy Osbourne has a neat cameo as Barb’s daddy, King Thrash.)
While young fans will bop their heads to a pop medley including “Who Let the Dogs Out” and “Gangnam Style,” the “Trolls” sequel cleverly addresses real-world issues of cultural appropriation (the Funk Trolls are irked that the Pop Trolls stole their music back in the day), the importance of diversity and how individualism doesn’t have to mean intolerance. There’s also a super “Empire Strikes Back” nod with a bunch of bounty hunters Barb recruits, including the Kenny G-esque Smooth Jazz Troll named Chaz (Jamie Dornan).
Leaning hard into messaging about finding one’s own musical soul, “Trolls World Tour” is above-average animated fare for the masses that’ll win over more people because we’re all social distancing than it otherwise might, and that’s OK. If children want to try out some Parliament Funkadelic on their mom and dad’s Spotify afterward, then it’s a job well done.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Trolls World Tour' review: Musical sequel cures the quarantine blues