Troll Talk with Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick
By: Lynn Barker
Trolls are those happy little creatures with big eyes and big hair. They’ve been around for ages collected by kids, teens and adults alike. Now there is a new animated musical film celebrating them and their quest for eternal happiness.
Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Into the Woods) voices Poppy, an optimistic troll princess and Justin Timberlake (“Saturday Night Live”, The Social Network and tons of music) is Branch, an unhappy, kinda paranoid survivalist troll. These two butt heads through much of the film but, in real life, Anna and Justin are buds. Justin wrote a song and produced many others for the movie, singing himself and adding artists like Anna, Ariana Grande, Zooey Deschanel and Gwen Stefani.
In Trolls, Poppy and Branch struggle with the Bergens, large angry creatures who eat trolls to get their “happy” on. Justin and Anna talk lovin’ trolls, singing and bringing these beloved dolls to life.
Q: Justin, what was your process in bringing the music to this? Did you research the songs first?
- Justin: This is my first time of doing it on this level. I’ve never been a music producer on a film before; the executive music producer. For a musical like this, we take these classic toys and mythological creatures from so long ago (popular in the 1970’s especially) and really modernize them, that was our M.O. with the music as well. It fits with the humor. A seven-year-old is going to walk away and know “The Sound of Silence,” which is very cool, and a song like (Cyndi Lauper’s) “True Colors.”
- I came onboard a little after some of the songs were sought-after and cleared. The clearance process can be mind-numbing. “True Colors” already was picked out for the moment (Anna and I sing it) in the film and “The Sound of Silence” already was picked out too. So my job for those songs was to put our own spin on them, make them sound unique and to make them sound like they belonged in the scene, much like musical theater.
Q: You wrote some songs especially for the film too, didn’t you?
- Justin: Yeah. I wrote four original songs, one of which you may or may not have heard (“Can’t Stop the Feeling”). It’s in the movie as well and was written specifically for the movie. I’d never done anything like that either. To write it specifically for the movie and to have a little bit of a hack code into the fact that some of the music sounds very ‘70s. It has a ‘70s funk to it. That was definitely the inspiration for “Can’t Stop the Feeling” as well. You treat each moment, and see the animation and how big a moment is. You know you’re going to see where the Bergens (troll adversaries) live and sonically complement that.
Q: How was working and singing with Anna?
- Justin: It’s been fun to work with Anna because she’s such a good singer. She doesn’t fancy herself that.
- Anna: It’s a lie. I’m wonderful (they laugh).
- Justin: It’s been so much fun to work with her. Most of our work together has been us sitting at the (sound) board and us talking about her singing and vocal performance because “Get Back Up Again,” it’s her singing, but she’s also acting.
- Anna: We wanted something that felt like the “I want…” song. I would say 95 percent of what’s in the movie is from my session with Justin.
- Justin: We had a lot of discussions about (the story not stopping for a song). I’m a big fan of musicals. The first one that comes to mind is “The Music Man” or “Singing in the Rain.” You’re getting a piece from a character that’s moving the story along and you’re getting a piece of the story that’s moving the story along. The music services that. I think it’s probably a lot more challenging for young people where the music starts and time stops. We wanted to modernize our movie and make everything service the movie and move it along.
Q: How long did it take to pare down the number of songs for the film?
- Justin: There were four different versions of “Get Back Up Again.” There were songs we cleared or tried out for different scenes. Every once in a while, you come across some irony, like Gorilla’s Clint Eastwood that literally the line is “I’m happy and feeling glad. I’ve got sunshine in a bag.” We’re using it with the Bergens, which is complete irony because there’s nothing happy about that scene.
Q: Anna, did you have troll dolls? Do you have a favorite song in the film?
- Justin: (to Anna) Careful how you answer that. Just kidding!
- Anna: I had trolls growing up. My first question to (the filmmakers) after they pitched me the movie was, “Does Poppy have a diamond belly button?” because the jeweled belly button trolls are the best trolls. And they said, “No, but she has glitter freckles.” And I was like, “That’s fine.” I had the pencil toppers, which made it seem like homework was fun even when it wasn’t fun. They are that kind of ugly-cute. It’s hard to say what draws kids to them but I think it’s like pug dogs. They’re so ugly they’re cute. And my favorite song from the film is “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”
- Justin: Yeah! The check is in the mail. But trolls become disarming. Not to speak ill of things like Barbies but they disarm especially young females. I remember when I was a young female…
- Anna: (gives him a yeah, right look). I had a confusing relationship with my Barbies but I loved the trolls. I tortured my Barbies.
- Justin: I feel like growing up (with Barbies) there’s a sort of Barbie-dysmorphia thing. I remember in 2nd and 3rd grade, every girl in school had a troll. They had the Treasure Trolls, the ones with the jewels in the belly. I remember the pencil toppers. Girls would brush their hair. They were every bit as big as other dolls that were geared towards young females.
Q: What’s great about voicing a character rather than playing a live action character?
- Justin: We didn’t have to film a scene in the freezing cold.
- Anna: We didn’t have to remember where your body mic is supposed to go on your futuristic costume.
Q: Were there big musical challenges for you Justin?
- Justin: There were challenges with the music because it’s not easy to come up with a full arrangement for a song, especially one that’s so classic and popular. We’ve gone through different iterations of some of the different musical performances, cutting them down and extending them. That can become a little time-consuming but it’s still fun work. It’s still fun to try and crack the code of trying to not linger on with music, but still not cut what’s important to the characters of the story.
Q: Can you talk about the arrangement of “True Colors?” Do you get nervous when you take on a classic?
- Justin: I was very nervous to be honest. The whole time I was at the recording session I was like, “What is Cyndi (Lauper) going to think?” I still don’t know and it’s too late to worry about it because it’s already in the movie.
Trolls is in theaters November 4th!
Have Your Say
Do you or any member of your family collect troll dolls? Are you a huge fan of Justin’s music or Anna’s Pitch Perfect movies? Comment below!