The makers of Dreamworks’ animated musical Trolls World Tour said that while making the film, which involves “revisionist history and cultural appropriation,” they didn’t want pop music to be the “white savior” at the end of the movie.
“We wanted people to come together and telling that story through musical genres seemed like a clever way of doing it without feeling preachy” DreamWorks producer Gina Shay told Variety about the movie which stars Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Ron Funches, Kelly Clarkson, Anderson .Paak, Sam Rockwell, George Clinton, Mary J. Blige, and Kenan Thompson.
Universal’s head of film music Mike Knobloch said the challenge was making sure the “much weightier themes” of the movie came “across in the right way” to the audience.
Those themes, or course, being cultural appropriation in music.
Explaining how the Trolls producers wove in the movie’s message about cultural appropriation, Shay said, “Pop stole the beats. They used everybody else’s music and called it their own and did not give anybody the credit, so it’s a deep, meaningful part of the movie. We also wanted it to have an uplifting chorus — but when you’re telling the story of a revisionist history and cultural appropriation, it’s hard to be uplifting.”
The plot of the film follows a young troll named Poppy, who, along with her friends, discover that there are six troll tribes, each of which has their own musical style. There is funk, country, techno, classical, pop, and rock and each tribe plays their style as Poppy tries to find one song that can unite all the tribes as one. But two villain trolls are working just as hard to destroy the other music genres and make their style the supreme Troll music.
The result: “Poppy and Branch embark on a daring mission to unite the trolls and save the diverse melodies from becoming extinct,” the film’s description reads.
To make sure that the production was suitably politically correct, the producers hired long-time funk artist George Clinton to help bring authenticity to the music of its funk troll tribe. “Funk in an animated movie?” Clinton gushed. “I’ve been wanting to do that for so long.”
“Trolls World Tour is perfect for right now,” Clinton said. “We are different, but to create harmony, we all have to be together as one,” he said of the film’s theme.
But that “coming together” was not going to include white people winning the musical battle, Shay exclaimed.
Of the show-stopping final song meant to unite the six troll tribes at the end of the film, Shay says pop music — she describes it as “white” music — isn’t the uniting genre.
“Just Sing,” the ambitious final song — positioned as “Can’t Fight the Feeling!” was in the original — attempts to unite all the disparate genres. “You could write a big pop song, but then we’d end up with a — like [they] say — white savior,” Shay says. “We did not want pop to save the day — that was really important to the story.”
“I wanted people to leave the theater feeling like there’s hope for us all to come together. And if we’re not seeing eye to eye, then at least we can open our ears,” Shay concluded.
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