CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) – Princess Poppy and all of her colorful troll friends living in Troll Village believe they have discovered the source of happiness: It's singing, dancing and hugging.
Well, sort of.
The true source of happiness, they tell everyone, is internal.
"Happiness is inside you," Poppy says. In fact, she adds, it's inside everyone.
That's why Poppy is always perky – to the point of being naïve about the realities and dangers of life. One of those dangers: the Bergens, the dreadful-looking creatures who live in the same forest and who believe that the source of happiness comes only by eating those cheerful trolls.
DreamWorks' Trolls (PG) opens in theaters this weekend, and thanks to an all-star cast and partnerships with McDonald's, General Mills, Rice Krispies Treats and Pillsbury, lots of children are likely going to want to watch it. It stars Anna Kendrick as Poppy and Justin Timberlake as her friend Branch, and also includes characters voiced by Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani and James Corden.
But is Trolls family-friendly -- and is it too scary for kids? Let's take a look.
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Trolls is part comedy and part musical, and even though it is far from being as good as something like Frozen, its music is entertaining enough that I enjoyed most of it.
The interaction between Poppy and Branch is a strength. Poppy's optimistic view of the world includes only rainbows and flowers, while Branch is far more realistic, even downright pessimistic. But they must team up and work together to find their troll friends who have been captured by the Bergens and taken back to the Bergens' village. In the end, their worldviews complement one another, even though the movie seems to be telling us Poppy's is superior.
Self-sacrifice also is promoted, as several characters place their own safety secondary to the needs of others.
Young children might find the Bergens scary, and there are a few scenes I would be hesitant to let my four-year-old twins watch. We see one or more Bergens attack Troll Village twice and put trolls in a pouch. (Although we never see trolls eaten.) There's also a couple of tense scenes in the kitchen, when it appears the trolls will be cooked. (By comparison, I thought Trolls was a bit scarier than The BFG.) The Bergens are mean-looking, orc-like things that may provoke nightmares.
There's an opening scene in which a troll is seen completely naked from behind, and later in the film the phrase "total babe" is used at least four times to reference a female Bergen's appearance.
There are four instances of "oh m G-d," which is particularly disappointing in a film aimed at children. Perhaps that has become common slang in our culture, but lots of families remain offended by it.
Finally, the idea that "happiness is inside" of everyone needs to be critiqued. If all that's needed for happiness is to look inward, then where does Christ fit in? The Bible teaches that apart from God and the Gospel, we are depraved and crave wickedness (Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10-11). Although Jesus does live within those who trust Him, he doesn't live within everyone. Of course, there is something to be said for singing and dancing bringing us good feelings – but even those two things should point us back to God, because they are gifts from Him. (And, yes, this is "just a cartoon," but kids walk away quoting everything ... and I want my kids to be discerning.)
Thumbs Up ... Or Down?
With four small children in the house, I watch lots of children's movies and enjoy most of them. That said, Trolls is ... so-so. Comparing it to 2016 movies, it is better than The Angry Birds Movie and Ice Age: Collision Course, but not even close to Zootopia, Finding Dory, The Secret Life of Pets or Storks.
The Verdict: Family-Friendly?
I think Trolls is too scary for my four-year-old children, although other parents likely would come to a different conclusion.
Discussion Questions for Families
Is there truly happiness inside of all of us? What is the source of happiness? Was Princess Poppy naïve? Was Branch realistic ... or pessimistic? Which character do you relate to – Poppy or Branch? Does pessimism have a role in a Christian worldview?
Trolls is rated PG for some mild rude humor
Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Language: Oh my G-d (4).