Basing a film on a toy can be a great idea; just look at the Toy Story franchise, the fifth-highest grossing animated series ever, or The Lego Movie, and its plethora of awards. But it can be risky – Jem and the Holograms, we’re looking at you.
So DreamWorks’ decision to base a star-studded film on a toy invented in 1959, which has enjoyed cultish success periodically ever since (they were huge in the 90s) was brave. Yet the Trolls filmmakers believe the blend of clever script, relatable characters voiced by popular actors, irresistible music and “fuzzy immersion” is a winning formula.
DreamWorks, responsible for such series as Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar, definitely has a way of making unlikely scenarios appeal, so perhaps its take on the “cute ugly” toy will continue its string of successes. Co-director Walt Dohrn says the dolls became a symbol for happiness in the 1970s; at a time when every other news story seems to tell of death and destruction, “we decided it was time to start spreading some joy again,” Dohrn says.
“With happiness as a guidepost, we wanted to create a film with a mix of fun, adventure, heart, music, colour and textures.”
Producer Gina Shay adds that they took inspiration from the 70s, “when there was this feeling of freedom; disco, pop and dance music was everywhere”, to ensure that happy vibe imbued the whole film.
The filmmakers wanted the look of the film to inspire good feelings. Co-director Mike Mitchell says the film pays homage to acclaimed animator Hayao Miyazaki, whose films tend to have such a positive impact on viewers. “Many of Miyazaki’s films are like fairytale dreams with weird and wonderful creatures,” Mitchell explains. “Those things really influenced Trolls.”
They also used a process they call “fuzzy immersion” to create textures based on felt, velvet, and other soft, furry fabrics to make audiences want to reach into the film and touch the characters.
Even more important was the work that went into the Trolls’ defining physical characteristic: their hair. The film is the first to use the company’s hair simulation tool, Willow. It let artists almost literally bring the hair to life; a crucial step because, as Justin Timberlake, who stars in the film, put it: “Hair is the Trolls’ superpower!” It’s used to build everything they need, so a lot was needed: 1.8 million strands, in fact.
With so much attention to detail, and such a positive vibe, it looks like Dreamworks may be on to a winner – again!
Opens November 3 and here's how you can watch it for free: bitly.com/YPxTrolls