This edition of Movies to Watch After… recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of Trolls World Tour as we recommend fans go back and learn some film history, become more well-rounded viewers, and enjoy likeminded works of the past, even if it’s the fairly recent past. As always, we try to point you in the easiest direction of where to find each of these highlighted titles.
Something of a historical occasion, although not without some precedent, Trolls World Tour skipped a theatrical release and has arrived on VOD at a premium rate (the price is still cheaper than it normally costs most families to go to the movies). Like most animated sequels of late, this one fails to capture the charms of the original, but like the first Trolls, the follow-up’s soundtrack of re-worked covers, mashup medleys, and newly composed tunes is pretty enjoyable. Still, just as nothing on the Frozen II album was quite as notable as “Let It Go,” this movie doesn’t have another “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”
Perhaps that’s for the best. Trolls World Tour doesn’t need one song of any one genre to stand out since the point of the story is to appreciate a variety of sounds. The movie is about inclusion in general, but it’s also a sort of Music Appreciation 101 course for young viewers, delivering lively, expository musical numbers that highlight the specific genres distinctly represented by different territories of Trolls, namely regions linked to pop, hard rock, techno, classical, country, and funk. Plus outlier characters affiliated with yodeling, reggaeton, k-pop, and smooth jazz.
Rather than looking back to movies that might have influenced Trolls World Tour or personal selections of classics I was reminded of (like the Gilliam-esque animation of God that looks straight out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail), I’m using this opportunity to showcase other movies that will help you appreciate the different genres of music involved in the plot. I went on a quest to find the movie that best serves each of these genres, not just with their soundtracks but narratively as well. And preferably not just music docs. Some of these, particularly the outliers, were more difficult to locate than others.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
One rule I had while compiling this week’s list was that going with music documentaries and music biopics would be too easy and also too specific. Mockumentaries, however, are just fine. And for pop music, the selection is a pretty obvious choice for everyone. I couldn’t even pretend I might go with Josie and the Pussycats or Music and Lyrics, because fans of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping are very serious about this silly feature that so perfectly sends up pop music docs that whenever a new comes along (like the Taylor Swift film Miss Americana), most of its beats are easily anticipated.
Popstar is the brainchild of the comedy trio known as The Lonely Island — individually Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone. They wrote and star in the movie, with Schaffer and Taccone also at the helm as co-directors and Samberg in the lead role as Conner Friel, a former boy band member and cemented pop music icon and the main subject of the faux doc. Trolls World Tour lead and music producer Justin Timberlake (a former boy band member and cemented pop music icon) also joins in the fun, unsurprisingly given his past collaborations with The Lonely Island on Saturday Night Live.
As with any good product of parody, Popstar isn’t just making fun of pop music and its artists and never means to insult the people or songs it’s lampooning. In case you wouldn’t know it by JT’s involvement as well as cameo appearances and vocal collaborations from the likes of Justin Bieber, Pink, Adam Levine, Mariah Carey, Usher, and perhaps most memorably Usher, looping a who’s who of pop stars to be in on the spoof, this is a loving tribute to the genre and the mainstream recording industry. The soundtrack album is as enjoyable as the movie, filled with ridiculous pop that’s eating itself.
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
The adversarial music of the Hard Rock Trolls is also best represented by a mockumentary. Actually, This is Spinal Tap is widely considered the pinnacle of mockumentary movies. Everything from the works of Christopher Guest (who also co-wrote and co-stars in this), including the folk music send-up A Mighty Wind, to the aforementioned recommendation Popstar owe so much to this showcase of the fictional heavy metal trio Spinal Tap. In a ranking of the 10 best mockumentaries, this one goes to 11. Wait, that doesn’t make sense. It goes to one. Everything else goes to 11. Uh. Nevermind.
Similar to the parody-as-homage involved in Popstar, the humor here is just as devoted to what it’s mocking as it is exploiting the genre for laughs. There’s a reason that This is Spinal Tap writers/actors Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Guest, who portray the band and composed and performed their own music, went on to actually play real shows under the moniker of Spinal Tap in character as members David St. Hubbins, Derek Smalls, and Nigel Tufnel. The music is funny, but there’s still a lot of thought and talent put into it, and by itself, the soundtrack belongs in any rock fan’s record collection.
Other fun fictional movies offering an appreciation of hard rock music, spanning from early metal and glam rock through punk, grunge, and modern rock, include Airheads, Detroit Rock City, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Phantom of the Paradise, Velvet Goldmine, Almost Famous, Suburbia, SLC Punk, Green Room, Rude Boy, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Singles, Wayne’s World (and its sequel), School of Rock, Rock Star, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, and Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. And I’d go back further if we took the “hard” out of Trolls World Tour‘s inclusion of rock.
But if I was to choose just one other recommendation for hard rock after This is Spinal Tap it’d be a documentary: The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. Helmed by Penelope Spheeris (who also gave us the aforementioned Suburbia and Wayne’s World), the second of a trilogy of films, the other two of which focus on punk bands, is a darkly humorous deep-dive into the Los Angeles heavy metal scene of the 1980s. Most notable is the footage of Trolls World Tour co-star Ozzy Osborne, whose barely intelligible presence surely led to the creation of his family’s reality show.
Country music is a genre that’s blindly hated by so many people, even those who claim to otherwise have a broad appreciation of every other sound around the world. I’ll admit, I was one of those kids growing up who said I loved all music genres save for this one. Then, eventually, I realized I had a fondness for classic country music at least. Thanks, ’90s MTV for making Johnny Cash cool and “alternative” as a gateway! And thanks to biopics about Cash, Patsy Cline, and others, as well as the recent Ken Burns documentary series. Most of all, thanks to Robert Altman’s ensemble masterpiece Nashville.
The movie is set in the titular Tennessee city, country music’s capital, and follows an array of characters ranging in notoriety in the industry, from amateurs of varying talent to fictional superstars such as Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) and Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakely). Nashville showcases the truly famous Grand Ole Opry and a mix of country and western music styles of the time while also branching out with some folk and gospel performances. The film is satirical but not a parody, though some of the music artists and songs veer in that direction. Again, it’s all done with admiration as well as a wink.
Trolls World Tour isn’t exactly about spoofing music genres either, but there is a similar balance, and that carries over from the first movie, which offers a kind of caricature of pop music without outright ridicule. In the sequel, country music is given the closest thing to parody with the tune “Born to Die,” written by Justin Timberlake and country staple Chris Stapleton and sung by Kelly Clarkson in character as Country Trolls leader Delta Dawn. The song is supposed to represent a certain bluesy misery inherent in country music, narrow-targeted but still amusing. It’s also the best new song in the movie.
My first thought for this entry was Amadeus, and that almost kept me from having a rule against biopics. The Best Picture winner depicts the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arguably the most famous of all classical music composers, and it does so without the stuffiness you’d expect from a highbrow period piece set in 18th century Europe. Tom Hulce’s goofball performance of the titular genius is a lot of fun. If not so bawdy, I’d recommend it to all the children curious about classical music following their viewing of Trolls World Tour. But, of course, a better pick, for all ages, is Disney’s Fantasia.
Classical music and animation used to go together like a stringed instrument and its bow. Fantasia was an ambitious feature for the concept, but it began out of the tradition of the precursor series of Disney cartoon shorts known as Silly Symphonies. And other studios had paired and would continue to pair animated tales with pieces of classical music and opera through much of the 20th century. Children got a good dose of classical music in their ears courtesy of all these works, even if they might not have been aware or learned about who composed which tune or what the piece was called.
Still, appreciation doesn’t necessitate a full education let alone expertise when it comes to valuing different kinds of music. Most fans of Fantasia are familiar, even if not by name, with specific works by Bach, Tchaikovsky, Dukas, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Ponchielli, Mussorgsky, and Schubert (Fantasia 2000 adds Respighi, Gershwin, Shostakovich, Saint-Saens, and Elgar to the mix). No Mozart, ironically. They just associate these works with visuals involving Mickey Mouse, dancing mushrooms and hippos, dinosaurs and centaurs, and other fantastical images inspired by the music, and that’s fine.
That’s the Way of the World (1975)
This could be a controversial pick since funk music is such a big part of blaxploitation films and vice versa. But while the soundtracks of so many blaxploitation films, including full albums by the likes of James Brown, Isaac Hayes, and Curtis Mayfield, help in the appreciation of the funk genre, the movies’ stories don’t have enough to do with the music. Another option was to pick one of the early ’80s hip-hop movies, most of which include some funk music, but even though the Funk Trolls also represent hip-hop music, that seems like a cheat since it’s too specific and a bit off from the main subject.
That’s the Way of the World is a little-remembered movie from the same year as Nashville and similarly highlights one particular music genre: bland vocal groups. Harvey Keitel stars as a record producer working with a band played by r&b/funk group Earth, Wind & Fire but he’s tasked by his label with recording an act deemed “wholesome” by execs but which he considers to sound soulless. It’s the whitest possible movie to represent funk, but Earth, Wind & Fire, who did the soundtrack, is celebrated as the preferred music and so funk is showcased sparingly as a contrast to the paler choice.
If you also, like Keitel’s character, would rather just stick with funk, feel free to skip to the end with Earth, Wind & Fire concert performance. And then make your way to a concert film like Soul Power or a ’90s college movie with a performance from George Clinton (who voices the king of the Funk Trolls) and Parliament-Funkadelic: PCU. And definitely listen to the soundtracks of Black Caesar, Shaft, Super Fly, Coffy, Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off, Youngblood, Car Wash, Wild Style, Krush Groove, and the 2009 blaxploitation film spoof Black Dynamite, plus many, many more films of the ’70s and ’80s.
Human Traffic (1999)
I’m a bit old school and was going to raves in the ’90s, so the earlier club culture movies like 2000’s Groove, which represents American parties, and Human Traffic, which is set in Wales, are my go-to picks rather than something more recent like We Are Your Friends, Berlin Calling, and Eden. Human Traffic, which didn’t make much of a splash in the US but became a cult hit in the UK, looks like an idea that came about from the success of Trainspotting yet keeping most of the drugs and the crime stuff out of the story. It just follows a group of friends in the club scene of Cardiff over one weekend.
Documentaries that depict the ’90s NYC club scene are also my jam, films like Party Monster (and maybe its remake) and Limelight. Visually, I have to give a shout out to Tron: Legacy, especially for the bit with Daft Punk. But techno can mean different things to different people, so this entry is tough because I think it’s more subjective than the rest. But Human Traffic just has the vibe of friends just having fun and feeling the beats that I associate with the music and its scene without any forced plot, just character-driven drama. Because when you’re in it, that’s all there is, you and the music and those you love.
Echoes of Home (2007)
Here is this week’s single documentary pick. Sure, I said I wanted to avoid leaning on music docs, but I need to allow at least one nonfiction film each week and yodeling is the most difficult of the extra music genres in Trolls World Tour to find a suitable dramatic title for. What, should I recommend Heidi? Or maybe Mars Attacks? Perhaps anything starring Gene Autry? The yodelers in the Trolls sequel, although posing as cowboys, are revealed to be alpine singers, so I’m excluding Westerns and country singers. Echoes of Home is a doc spotlighting Swiss yodelers, perfectly honoring the vocal craft.
My Imaginary Friend is Kenny G (2014)
When you think of smooth jazz, particularly the kind in Trolls World Tour played on a soprano saxophone, you picture Kenny G. Therefore, the smooth jazz genre has to be represented by a movie about and starring the iconic instrumentalist. Fortunately, there is something of the sort, and fortunately, it’s very short. My Imaginary Friend is Kenny G is a Funny or Die comedy short with a running time of about four minutes. Kenny G stars alongside actor and comedian Jon Daly, both as themselves with the latter attempting to become a musician as smooth as the former in order to hypnotically attract women.
Anna Kendrick Goes K-Pop with f(x) (2013)
Should there even be K-pop Trolls who aren’t part of the overall Pop Trolls? It’s fine, especially since there’s an easy film to choose for the small group played by members of the real K-pop group Red Velvet. No, I’m not talking about the SM Entertainment concert film SMTown: The Stage nor any of the other hit K-pop concert films (most of them featuring BTS). This is another Funny or Die short and not only stars the former K-pop girl group f(x) but also, as the title tells us, Trolls World Tour lead Anna Kendrick in a skit following her attempt to join the act despite not being Korean.
Reggaeton the Movie (2013)
One of the most obscure music styles represented in Trolls World Tour, reggaeton also is hard to find in cinema, especially films focused enough on the genre to recommend here. If only Tego Calderón’s character in the Fast & Furious franchise was, like him, a reggaeton star. And if only Illegal Tender wasn’t such a bad film. By the title alone, Reggaeton the Movie sounds like the proper choice, and although it’s a very cheap-looking production with some amateurish acting and I wouldn’t exactly recommend it for any other reason, the film set within the Puerto Rican urban music industry does indeed fit the bill.