In front of a crowd topped with bright blue, orange, and pink fluffs of sky-high troll hair, DreamWorks Animation’s newest voiceover recruits — Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake — joined Trolls director Mike Mitchell, co-director Walt Dohrn, and producer Gina Shay for the studio’s massive animation panel in Hall H at this year’s Comic-Con.
How did DreamWorks get to trolls? Through ogres. Mitchell and Dohrn, who previously worked on the Shrek films, say there was no history or mythology to go off of the ogre’s kindred cousin — aside from, say, the hair and the stubby arms that defined the Trolls toys of the ‘70s. The Trolls’ innate happiness launched the film’s story: Trolls charts the uprooting of the peaceful, happy Troll civilization — led by perennially optimistic leader Poppy (Kendrick). When a celebration goes awry and Poppy’s friends are kidnapped by giant, depressed monsters called Bergens (who only get happy through eating trolls), Poppy teams up with surly town outcast Branch (Timberlake) to rescue her friends from the clutches of the Bergens.
The panel played about 16 minutes of footage which found Poppy recruiting the reluctant Branch to head to Bergen Town and rescue the trolls. The footage included two songs sung by Kendrick’s character: cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” (see the video below) and a jubilant song called “Get Back Up Again,” as Poppy bounds across natural dangers towards Bergen Town. Another bit of footage they played showed Kendrick and Timberlake singing “True Colors” in a climactic moment.
One of the key concerns from both Kendrick and Timberlake was whether their characters were on too extreme opposite ends of the spectrum. “I couldn’t help but be a little psychotic, and they really embraced that, I think especially in that song ‘Get Back Up Again’,” said Kendrick. “You’re like, she is unhinged! An unbalanced little troll. We wanted to make her really happy but not the kind of thing you couldn’t stand for a 90-minute movie. She’s got layers. She’s messed up. It’s the kind of tiny troll that I like.”
Timberlake added, “I remember working with Mike and Walt and being extremely concerned that he was just going to be too cantankerous, that no one’s going to like this guy.” Of course, a balance was ultimately struck: “It just became more funny that they were so polar opposites of each other.”
Timberlake says working on Trolls and writing the film’s (and this summer’s) optimistic anthem, “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” has brightened up his own life. “I’ve never written a song like that under these type of circumstances, but when I started to write the song, I was like, this actually makes me feel really good,” he said. “It’s nice to be a part of something that you can put out in the world and it just makes people happy and there’s no rhyme or reason to it and you can be unabashed about it. That’s my favorite thing about this whole thing.”
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Kendrick added, “Every time I got an email that said these guys wanted to do another session, it made my week. I would just be looking forward to it all week, getting to go in and say these weird lines about cupcakes and rainbows… This is the first time I’ve ever rushed to watch footage.”
Despite roles in Into the Woods, Pitch Perfect, and The Last Five Years, Kendrick says her voice surprisingly sounds the most like her in this film — despite coming out of a tiny pink troll. She laughs at the experience of working with Timberlake, who executive music produced the album: “I felt like I was in one of those movies about musicians and he was the guy pressing the buttons like, ‘Do it better!’”
Producer Shay also brought up a point about body image and keeping the film’s body representation positive: “We broke every princess rule in the book on this one and we kept the troll shapes round, shoeless, a princess who’s shoeless, and my daughter’s 11, she has a really powerful mind and I’d rather have her using it to, to be imaginative instead of obsessing in the mirror because all girls are beautiful.”
The panel also included surprise appearances by Boss Baby director Tom McGrath, producer Ramsey Naito, and star Alec Baldwin.
“This is my first Comic-Con,” says Baldwin. “Please don’t eat me.”
The filmmakers showed footage from Boss Baby: In it, a young boy named Tim discovers that his little brother — a baby, voiced by Baldwin — is actually a brilliant, adroit, intelligent businessman, intent on getting Tim fired from the family.
Baldwin came on board after doing both Madagascar 2 and Rise of the Guardians with DreamWorks. “I had a lot of fun doing them and with Tom, and they came to me to do Boss Baby. I really loved working with these guys and I love how it changes and grows over time. We record this, I think we do the voices for this and the animation, what was it, about 12, 13 years to make the movie? We started this and I was in my 40s.”
The cast also includes Steve Buscemi as the villain and Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel as Tim’s parents.
McGrath says Baldwin improvised so much on other movies — none of which they could use in those films — that Baldwin was an obvious first choice for McGrath when it came time to cast. “We did a baby test with some lines from Glengarry Glen Ross,” says McGrath.
Baldwin laughs, adding, “Always be pooping.”
Trolls opens in theaters on Nov. 4, while Boss Baby is scheduled for release on March 31, 2017.
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