No Guest Found in this category
Walt Dohrn has spent the best part of a decade in the company of trolls.
The animator had long been a respected figure at DreamWorks Animation for his work as a story artist on the Shrek sequels. So, when that series concluded, the company had him in their sights for their next big franchise. They had secured the rights to the Good Luck Trolls toy line and tapped him and Shrek Forever After director Mike Mitchell to bring it to the silver screen. It wasn’t a simple task, given there wasn’t much to the dolls outside of their tall and colourful hair. But eventually, it came together as a jukebox musical fronted by the reliable Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake. Since then, Dohrn directed a popular sequel, and the series expanded to television, stage shows, and theme parks.
Now, Dohrn is about to unveil the third entry in the series, Trolls Band Together. The threequel reveals that Timberlake’s Branch was once part of the famous boy band BroZone. The group consisted of him and his four brothers, but after they disbanded, he hasn’t seen them since. However, when one of them is kidnapped by a pair of talentless pop stars who harvest his talent to achieve stardom, Branch and Kendrick’s Queen Poppy are propelled into a mission to reunite the brothers. The film is a fun ride with a fittingly boy band-heavy soundtrack. And in a move that has sparked global excitement, it also sees *NSYNC, the group Timberlake was a part of, reassemble to record a new song for the film.
Before the film drops internationally and brings frosted tips back in style, Supanova spoke with Walt Dohrn. He told us about the joys of working with *NSYNC, forming a boy band of his own, and how he feels about his ten-year Trolls journey.
When developing Trolls Band Together, how did you land on the music and story having a boy band influence?
WALT DOHRN: It came in pretty early. We always knew — thanks to our producer, Gina Shay — that we wanted to tell a Branch family tree story. Once we started deciding he’s going to have these brothers we didn’t know he had, there’s going to be four of them, and they would be in a band together, we started talking about family bands like The Jacksons and the Bee Gees and the Beach Boys. There’s such a fine history there. But that conversation got us fairly quickly to boy bands, and, you know, music of the ’90s, that boy band aesthetic, and pop music has always been a part of Trolls. But for this one, we really wanted to embrace that in a whole new way.
This choice gave you the unique opportunity to create a boy band. How did you assemble the members of BroZone? And were you wary of vocal harmony when doing so?
DOHRN: It’s a good question, and it was a long and careful process we had to go through. First, we were excited. We were like, ‘What!? We get to create our own super boy band! Who gets to do that? Not too often is that your job!’ So that was super fun. But each actor we brought had to be able to act, be funny, and be able to sing. It’s the triple threat. So it got hard to cast those roles, and they each had to have a very distinct sound to their voice so you could hear the difference between each of them. Not only that, they each had a separate story to tell, so that voice had to capture what that story was. It was a fun process but a long one.
There has been so much hype generated by this film reuniting *NSYNC after more than 20 years apart. How did they get involved as both musical contributors and cast members?
DOHRN: It was just this great gift that happened. It was deep into making the movie, maybe after a couple of years of working on it and working with Justin. He had all these great [boy band] stories, and we were celebrating it and making fun of it and just having a good time. And the music started coming in when Branch sings, “You’re all I ever wanted” [from I Want You Back]. That was a super emotional moment. I think it got the wheels turning in his head.
He had the perfect song and the perfect place in the movie for it, and he texted our producer, Gina Shay, and was like, ‘What if we brought the guys back together?’ And our heads exploded. We said, ‘Are you kidding? That would be so incredible.’ And once they came on board to sing the song and became trolls themselves, they were involved. They helped us design the characters; they would look at the outfits and make some suggestions. So they were collaborators like everybody else is on this film.
At a time when re-recordings are all the rage, I loved hearing Justin perform I Want You Back as part of the BroZone medley. For that track, which includes some all-time boy band hits, was it obvious that Justin should sing an *NSYNC song?
DOHRN: It was, but he had to be into it. You know, it was hard to say, ‘We’re not going to do this part of it.’ And it was funny when we were recording Anna as Poppy during that section; she was like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ when he was singing an *NSYNC song at that time. So we literally have Poppy saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ in the movie. But it all just felt so good and so natural. I remember once we put all the demos together and constructed that medley, we were like, ‘This is the movie. This is the core of the movie.’ It’s so much fun, it’s nostalgic, it’s funny, it’s uplifting, it’s silly. It was all these things all at once.
The medleys in the Trolls films are so audacious. The blending of Shaggy’s Boombastic and Christopher Cross’ Sailing in this film was particularly impressive. Is it a complex process mixing such wildly different songs?
DOHRN: Yeah, it’s a pretty messy process. I’ll work with my editor, Nick Fletcher, who I have been partners with for many, many, many years, and we’ll talk about what the scene should be. We’ll do some rough drawings, and he’ll take different pieces of songs and put them together. I won’t let anybody hear it, but we know where it could go. Once we have the right pieces, we give it to an executive music producer of ours, Joe Shirley. He works on the cover songs, and he starts piecing it together, doing his vocals. He brings Justin in, and he’ll be like, ‘Hey, let’s try Boombastic. Let’s try that here,’ or ‘Let’s try this song here, and we’ll replace little beats.’ But, yeah, that medley is great; I wish it were longer.
I’ve always admired how the series has experimented with different animation styles. The best example in this entry is when the characters are transported to the Hustle Dimension. What went into constructing that sequence?
DOHRN: All of us are animation fans, especially me. I was trained in 2D animation, so I’m always looking for opportunities to pay homage. We have a lot of stuff that feels like stop motion and puppetry, but we haven’t got to invest in a lot of 2D animation, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for it. And making all these films, we’ve learned the audiences are not distracted. They’re captivated by shifting styles and being playful and creative. The audience now accepts it, and we got the studio to really support us and be behind us, and we could make all kinds of crazy, wild choices. It just enhanced the fun of the movie. That one was super fun.
The series has a lot of characters, but I was intrigued to see Kenan Thompson and Zooey Deschanel have more prominent roles in this one, while James Corden doesn’t appear despite being a key component of the first two. How do you balance your ensemble from film to film?
DOHRN: Yeah, it’s very complex. I think I spent half my life over those three years in the recording booth because it is a massive cast, and it’s just up to what the story needs. We don’t like to repeat ourselves. We got a taste of Kenan Thompson’s Tiny Diamond in the last film, but he was so much fun to work with. The character was so great and so funny. We said, ‘Let’s take him on our road trip this time around so we can have more of him.’ And he’s this great kind of Greek chorus in the movie. He gets to be meta and comment on the movie that’s being made, which is lovely.
Then, it’s just the nature of bringing in new characters. I wanted a cast of new lead characters. We had a million different new trolls servicing the story and the genre of music. So some characters have to drop by the wayside, and then other ones get brought up and underlined a little bit more.
You’ve really built a lot from a little with the Trolls series. You’ve made a trilogy of films alongside multiple television series and specials from a relatively blank canvas. How has the journey been from acquiring the rights to the dolls a decade ago to where you and your collaborators are today?
DOHRN: I just feel really grateful that the world connected with it. Like you said, it’s very rare when you’re working in the studio system making these big movies that you have such a blank canvas. We had the Troll doll, which I loved growing up, but there wasn’t a lot there. They were very quirky. That’s kind of my sensibilities: this kind of ugly cuteness (laughs). So there were some important elements that they had, but again, most of it wasn’t created. There was no world; there were no main characters. So it’s just been a real joy for me and everyone else at the studio to give it a fresh take and give it all of our loves, desires, and passions. We got to put things we liked into this film in a new way. It’s been great. It’s been an incredible journey.
‘Trolls Band Together’ opens in cinemas on November 30
LEAD IMAGE: John Dory (Eric André), Clay (Kid Cudi), Poppy (Anna Kendrick), Branch (Justin Timberlake), Viva (Camila Cabello), Floyd (Troye Sivan) and Spruce (Daveed Diggs) in Trolls Band Together