Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick provide the voices of trolls in the new DreamWorks Animation movie Trolls. Based on the Troll dolls which were a craze throughout the decades, Kendrick plays Poppy, a happy troll thriving on hugs and songs. Timberlake plays Branch, a more practical troll who doesn’t like to sing and hug, but likes to be prepared for emergencies.
Kendrick and Timberlake attended a presentation of footage from Trolls at DreamWorks’ offices on Thursday, June 23, 2016 and participated in a Q&A. Timberlake also serves as the film’s Executive Music Producer, both for original songs and covers of classics like “Sounds of Silence” and “True Colors.” Trolls opens in theaters on November 4.
How does the process of music producing work?
Justin Timberlake: “This is my first time to do it on this level. I’ve never been the music producer for a film. For a musical like this, which I think to stay with the theme of DreamWorks, what’s made them so reverent, to take these classic toys and mythological creatures from so long ago and really modernize them, that was our M.O. with the music as well. I think it fits with the humor. Some seven-year-old’s gonna walk away knowing ‘The Sound of Silence’ which is very cool. And a song like ‘True Colors.’ Now, I came on a little after some of the songs were sought after and cleared. I don’t know if you know about the clearance process but that can be mind-numbing. So I think that once the songs were cleared and I came in, ‘True Colors’ was definitely already picked out for this moment in the movie. ‘Sound of Silence’ was already picked out too so my job for that was just hopefully to put our own spin on it, make it sound unique, make it sound like it belonged in the scene, much like musical theater almost. Then as well, wrote four original songs, one of them that you may or may not have heard which is in the movie as well and specifically written for the movie. I’ve never done anything like that as well. So 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 does sound very ‘70s if I may. I think overall you’ll feel that a lot of the music definitely has a little bit of ‘70s funk to it, so that was definitely an inspiration for ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ as well. I think you treat each moment, you get to see some of the animation they’re working on, so you get to see how big a moment is. The Gorillaz, you know you’re getting to see where the Bergens live. You just want to sonically complement that. It’s been fun too to work specifically with Anna because she’s such a good singer. She doesn’t fancy herself that, but…”
Anna Kendrick: “It’s a lie. I’m wonderful.”
Justin Timberlake: “I’m pretty snobby anyway and it’s been so much fun to work with her. All the work that we actually did together was just me sitting at the board and us talking about her singing and her vocal performance. ‘Get Back Up Again,’ it’s her singing but she’s also acting. So there’s a lot that goes into that.”
Anna Kendrick: “‘Get Back Up Again,’ we wanted something that felt like the ‘I want’ song. That’s one of those Broadway things, the ‘I want’ song. It’s her ‘I want song.’ We had a take when they were coaching me on Skype and stuff. We had a take that was good, and after working with Justin for a while, I was like, ‘I feel like we should go back.’ Everyone was like, ‘Why? It’s fine.’ We went back and I would bet that 95% of what’s in the movie is from my session with Justin because as someone who’s a singer, he gives such specific notes that are so helpful that it just tightened it so much and I feel like we got so much more heart and mischief and sass from her.”
Justin Timberlake: “I’m a big fan of musicals. The first one that comes to mind is The Music Man or Singin in the Rain where you’re getting a piece from the character that’s moving the story along and you’re getting a piece from the story that’s moving the story along. The music services that. I feel like it’s a lot more challenging probably for young people, the type of musicals where the music starts and time stops. Then it’s like they end the music and everyone goes back to what they were. We wanted to definitely modernize our movie and make everything service the movie and move it along.”
How long was the process of narrowing down the songs?
Justin Timberlake: “There were four different versions of ‘Get Back Up Again’ I feel like. There were songs that we cleared or tried out for different scenes and are still trying out for different scenes. Every once in a while too you come across some irony like Gorillaz’ ‘Clint Eastwood’ that literally the line is ‘I’m happy, I’m feeling glad, I’ve got sunshine in my bag.’ We’re using it for the Bergens in complete irony because there’s nothing happy about that scene.”
What other trolls will we see in the film?
Anna Kendrick: “Satin and Chenille are connected by their hair. They’re the fashionistas.”
Did you ever have trolls? Do you have a favorite song in the film?
Anna Kendrick: “I had trolls.”
Justin Timberlake: “Careful how you answer that.”
Anna Kendrick: “I had trolls growing up. My first question to them after they finished pitching me the movie was, ‘Does Poppy have a diamond belly button?’ because the jeweled belly button trolls are the best trolls. They said, ‘No, but she has glitter freckles,’ so I was like okay, that’s fine. And I had the pencil toppers which made it seem like homework was fun even when homework wasn’t fun. But 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 that they’re cute. And my favorite song is ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling.'”
Justin Timberlake: “Your check is in the mail. I think they become disarming because, not to speak ill of things like Barbies, but I think they disarm especially young females probably. I remember when I was a young female, no. I mean, I can imagine that it’s very disarming.”
Anna Kendrick: “Yeah, I had a confusing relationship with my Barbies. But I love trolls. I tortured my Barbies.”
Justin Timberlake: “I’m sure growing up, it’s easy to go through some sort of body dysmorphia thing. I feel like they probably are very disarming. I remember in second and third grade, I didn’t have them but every girl in school had one. And they had the treasure trolls, the ones with the jewels in the belly and I remember the pencil toppers. Girls would brush the hair. They were every bit as big as any other doll that came out geared towards young females.”
What adversity did you have to overcome in making the movie?
Justin Timberlake: “That’s probably more of a question for the filmmakers or our producer.”
Anna Kendrick: “We have a really easy time of it.”
Justin Timberlake: “We didn’t have to film a scene in the freezing cold.”
Anna Kendrick: “You don’t have to worry about your body mic and where it’s supposed to go on your weird futuristic costume.”
Justin Timberlake: “I had fun working on this movie. There were challenges. There’s 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 the different musical performances, cutting them down, extending them, cutting them down, extending them. That can become a little time consuming but it’s still fun work. It’s still fun to try to crack the code of trying to not linger on with music but still not cut any of what’s very important to the characters and story. But that sounds like the most trivial thing compared to probably the adversity [the filmmakers] faced.”
It looks like three years of work paid off.
Justin Timberlake: “Well, I didn’t start three years ago, let me be very clear. That arrangement for that [‘True Colors’] was a group of people that all worked on it. I can’t take credit for that.”
Do you get nervous taking on a classic like that?
Justin Timberlake: I was very nervous, to be honest. I remember the whole time I was doing the recording session, I was like, ‘What is Cyndi gonna think?’ I still don’t know and I guess it’s too late to worry about it because it’s already in the movie. Absolutely, I’m sure you felt the same.”
Anna Kendrick: “Yeah, I do think though that having an acting objective makes it easier for me. When we sang it at Cannes, I was totally terrified but when I’m singing it in the movie and I’m listening to Justin, I’m thinking about what we have to accomplish for the story, it sort of distracts from that and it gives me a simpler intention.”