'Trolls: World Tour': an artistic tour-de-force about decolonialism and ethnonationalism

I need to be absolutely clear from the jump that this is not a joke or exaggeration. You're probably shocked since you've come to expect my usual scathing satire, but I need to lay aside the funnies for now and talk about "Trolls: World Tour" in the most earnest way I'm capable of doing.

I'm not typically the type to watch kids movies, so I was reticent at first — my taste in media tends to be a bit more high-brow. But I watched this movie at my friend's insistence, and folks let me tell you, I could not have underestimated this movie more.

The plot centers around six tribes of the titular Trolls, each of which bases their culture around a particular genre of music. There are the Pop, Funk, Classical, Hard Rock, Techno, and Country Trolls. Each group is largely ignorant of the other's existence, and each one possesses a magical string from which their musical powers derive. The inciting incident of our film is when the Hard Rock trolls begin their campaign to steal the strings of the other Trolls. Their leader, Queen Barb, wants to put all six magic strings on her guitar to play "the sickest power chord in history," to unite the world under hard rock.

The main driving force of our plot is, effectively, a dictator attempting to create an ethnostate. This may seem like a leap, but let me elaborate. At the film's climax, we learn that her power chord turns you into a mindless zombie jamming out to hard-rock, which seems like a clear metaphor for the consequences of enforced homogeneity. When cultural norms are strictly enforced, you necessarily rob people of their individuality and agency.

If you want more proof, there's a moment where we see a map of Queen Barb's plan for Troll-world domination, and I'll be damned if their bat-skull insignia doesn't look like the Nazi flag. Furthermore, her tactics for conquest appear to revolve around the use of extremely fast and destructive mechanized warfare, which very strongly resembles the German blitzkrieg. So I think it's fair to say that Queen Barb is fascism-coded.

However, this analysis only takes us so far, as the movie's commentary on the subject of fascism and conquest amounts to little more than, "those things are pretty bad." Not too subversive of a message for a kids movie. Now we can start peeling back the additional layers of nuance to this film.

The primary message of this film is about multiculturalism, but the film delivers this in a surprisingly smart way. The ideological climax occurs during the musical number, "It's All Love," in which the Funk Trolls explain to Queen Poppy the real reason the trolls live separately; in the distant past, the Pop Trolls tried to enforce Pop-music hegemony, and in a desperate bid to preserve their culture the leader of each genre stole their own string and fled.

One interpretation of this scene is that it's an allegory for imperialism. Earlier in the film, Queen Poppy had been taught a whitewashed version of history by her father that blinded to the musical oppression her ancestors wrought upon the Troll world. This causes her to re-evaluate her moral code which had been guiding her own ideology, a clear metaphor for how we all need to re-evaluate the colonial attitudes that define our perception of politics and culture.

Another important ideological message during this scene occurs when the protagonists are reunited with their friend, Cooper. Cooper is a Funk troll that lives among the Pop trolls, having been displaced by an unfortunate accident while he was an infant. He is accepted into the Pop trolls society and appears to be some sort of consort or advisor to the throne (his exact political role is unclear). Cooper lives well, but when he learns there may be trolls out there that look like him, he ventures out to find his kin. Just when things look hopeless, he is picked up by the Vibe City spaceship, where he encounters a whole society of Trolls that look just like him. He learns that he is the long-lost heir to the Vibe Throne and is embraced back into his own culture. One interpretations is that this is an allegory for the experiences of non-white people in majority white communities. Even if the people are as nice as can be, you still need a connection to your own culture to fully realize your own identity. It's a very effective way of breaking down this complex issue into something easy for kids to understand.

An important sub-plot involves four teams of bounty hunters commissioned by Queen Barb to search for Queen Poppy. The exact genealogical connections between the various troll ethnic groups is never fully explained, but it's implied that our four bounty hunter groups — Kpop, Reggaeton, Jazz, and Yodeling — live on the periphery of our main Troll kingdoms without a nation-state of their own. In the film, the Kpop and Reggaeton Trolls find one of our protagonists at the same time, and they dance-battle to decide who gets to keep him. Our protagonist then asks them, "Why should Queen Barb be allowed to decide which music gets to exist?" This is obviously an allegory for how empires exert power by fostering inter-ethnic divisions. The European colonial empires would often promise resources and privileges to certain ethnic groups in exchange for assistance in subjugating other groups. Much of the time, they did this to extend their influence into territory far beyond what they directly administered, and in many cases is the origin of ongoing civil conflicts. This is yet another extremely complicated part of modern history that "Trolls: World Tour" makes accessible to kids in a way that doesn't overly simplify the concept.

Now there are certainly some problematic elements to the film as well. For example, Queen Barb (Troll Hitler) gets a redemption arc which has some troubling moral messages about the way we should treat war criminals. It might have been better if they added a post-credits scene of a Troll-Nuremberg Trial. Furthermore, the only form of government we see in this film is hereditary monarchy, and the text strongly implies that giving absolute power into a single autocrat is acceptable as long as they're a good person. I suppose this is excusable on the grounds of narrative simplicity, as it makes more sense to have just one character represent a culture. It would be rather confusing for Vibe City to have a decentralized anarcho-municipalist political structure governed by a quorum of community leaders. There's only so much decolonialist leftist theory they can reasonably fit into a kids movie.

All in all, this movie is pretty based. Once you get past the two separate characters voiced by James Corden and the schlocky dialogue, it's a pretty worthwhile watch. At least watch it high or something, it's a fun one.

Link to article in google docs with images:https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KWZBxnHOYc-WfRzlmIFu_2cFqAWyI1DM8hwRGswL8SE/edit