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Trolls World Tour: Walt Dohrn interview

Walt Dohrn
Written by Steven White

The Trolls World Tour director speaks to FQ about his latest animated, musical film triumph.

Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick shrink back down to Troll size once more to star in Trolls World Tour, the sequel to 2016’s Trolls and from what we’ve seen of it the perfect, fun watch for kids and parents this spring.

We caught up with the film’s director, Walt Dohrn, to find out what’s so appealing about these colourfully fey creatures. 

Tell us about the new film.

What happens in Trolls World Tour is that Poppy, played by Anna Kendrick, is now Queen of the Trolls and learns that there’s all these other Troll tribes out there and they’re each based on music genre: country, classical, funk, rock, techno and pop.

But what she also learns is that the queen of rock, Queen Barb, is trying to take over all music and annihilate all music expect rock. So it’s a hard rock apocalypse!

And working with Justin and Anna again?

It was so much fun. Just a few years ago on the first Trolls movie, we were doing press and I ran into them and they said when are we doing another one? So that felt good. It was great because they’re so integral to the process.

For Anna, we give her the script and talked about story and her character’s growth and we improvised a lot of lines. Same thing with Justin [Timberlake]. He comes up with a lot of jokes, plus he’s the executive music producer so he got started right away writing new music.

Can’t Stop The Feeling was a huge hit, right?

I’m so grateful that people connected with that. So how do you compete with music like that? I think Justin was excited about the different genres and all the different collaborations he could have on this movie, from Kelly Clarkson to Anderson Paak.

What about the film’s impressive music ensemble?

Once we had this concept of the music genres, we wanted it to be authentic. So you get to something like funk and you couldn’t be more authentic than the godfather of funk himself, George Clinton. That’s how we led the casting of the movie.

So it got to rock and we said we’ve got to have Ozzy Osbourne, and luckily his grandkids were fans of Trolls. I think we found that a lot, people being fans of the first one. Anyone we asked, we pretty much got. 

Walt Dohrn (credit: Michael Garcia)

What first attracted you to Trolls?

Firstly, the music. I co-directed Trolls and that was the first movie where I really got involved working with the musicians, which I loved because I’m a hobbyist.

I have I think 20 instruments at home that I play badly. Piano, bass, guitar and ukulele and jaw harp. You name it, I’ve got it. I play with my kids. I love and adore music and if I make anything, it’s got to have music in it. So here was a chance to make a movie about music.

Also, the freedom and autonomy the studio gave us to push the look of the world. If you compare it to the handmade world of the first one, in this movie we got to really blow it out. There’s no real water or fire, it’s all fibre-based. We were a little more conservative the first time but this time we said let’s push it even further because the audience will go with it.

They like it and are drawn to it and the artists also have more fun the weirder it is.

Funk Trolls (credit: Michael Garcia)

What do your kids think of the film?

They’ve seen parts of it. My daughter, who’s six now, she was three when we were making Trolls and she played baby Poppy – nepotism! She’s not in this movie but I talked to her a lot about it and they’re very proud of their dad let’s just say. But I think that she did say why am I not in it this time? [Ha.]

Did you have Trolls as a child?

I did. I grew up in the 70s and that’s where there were a lot of Trolls just lying around and that’s part of where that felted world comes from and inspired by the clothes they wore, which was very 70s felted clothing.

And when I was making Trolls, I would go around with my oldest daughter, who’s a teenager now, to the thrift stores and find these Trolls because they’re just everywhere.

I feel like the height of their popularity was when I was growing up. But I feel like every decade they kind of reinvent themselves. So I was excited to be a part of what people think Trolls are now. 

What message do you hope the film sends out?

I think first it’s about having a good time and laughing and dancing and just feeling good. But underneath is this message of tolerance, the idea of the importance of diversity and how we can’t blanket over differences. And to celebrate each culture and everyone can live side by side.

Queen Barb (credit: Michael Garcia)

And learning to listen?

Poppy’s journey now that she’s the queen is this idea that leaders should listen to the community. And when it’s a movie that’s essentially about music, you have this allegory that’s like ok you listen to music and you listen to your community. 

Which Troll land would you live in?

It’s a hard choice and luckily we don’t have to make that choice but I think that ultimately it would be pop music because I grew up with the Beatles. Then as a teen I listened to Prince, and he did all the genres. So I think that it has such a range that if I had to choose just one, I’d choose pop. 

Where can Trolls go from here?

If the world wants it, we’ve got a few stories ready to go. If people really like it, we’ve got plenty of new worlds and new characters to give to the world. 

Why should kids and parents see this film?

I’ve been at Dreamworks for 20 years and we say that we call it making movies for humans. We definitely make sure it’s palatable and it’s clear for young people. And fun, of course.

Firstly, watch the movie because it’s a good time, you will laugh and want to dance and I think whether you’re a kid or 90, it’s designed for everybody.

And then after the fun and the good times, we have this important message underneath that’s always been applicable, now, on the schoolyard and in your community, which is essentially: be nice to everyone and allow everyone to be heard. 

Trolls World Tour is available at home on-demand from 6th April.

Follow @universaluk.

This interview appeared in the spring ’20 issue here.

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