Interview – ‘Trolls Band Together’ filmmakers Walt Dohrn and Gina Shay talk about the new trailer and 10 years of Trolls

After two films of true friendship and relentless flirting, Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake) are now officially, finally, a couple! As they grow closer, Poppy discovers that Branch has a secret past. He was once part of her favorite boyband phenomenon, BroZone, with his four brothers: Floyd (Golden Globe nominated electropop sensation Troye Sivan), John Dory (Eric André; Sing 2), Spruce (Grammy winner Daveed Diggs; Hamilton) and Clay (Grammy winner Kid Cudi; Don’t Look Up). BroZone disbanded when Branch was still a baby, as did the family, and Branch hasn’t seen his brothers since. But when Branch’s bro Floyd is kidnapped for his musical talents by a pair of nefarious pop-star villains—Velvet (Emmy winner Amy Schumer; Trainwreck) and Veneer (Grammy winner and Tony nominee Andrew Rannells; The Book of Mormon)—Branch and Poppy embark on a harrowing and emotional journey to reunite the other brothers and rescue Floyd from a fate even worse than pop-culture obscurity.

Trolls Band Together is steered by returning director Walt Dohrn and producer Gina Shay, and is co-directed by Tim Heitz (head of story, Trolls World Tour). DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls films—2016’s Trolls and 2020’s Trolls World Tour—have sung and danced their way to record-breaking success, earning an Oscar® nomination for Best Original Song and fueling one of the largest and most beloved entertainment brands in the world.

To celebrate the launch of the new trailer, I had the opportunity to sit down with director Walt Dohrn and producer Gina Shay to talk about the legacy of Trolls, mixing up animation styles and the collaborative process with Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick!

Nick: Last week, I was lucky enough to chat with your Dreamworks counterparts, Kelly Cooney and Kirk DeMicco, recently for the launch of the Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken! And one of the questions I asked was how will I personally relate to a film about two things I’m not: being a kraken, and being a teenage girl in high school! But the Trolls Band Together trailer won me over quickly because I’m pretty sure I heard the voice of Eric Andre in there!

Walt Dohrn: Thank you so much for noticing Eric Andre! I was so excited—I mean, he was my first choice. I’m such a big fan of the show. I was a little worried we were going to get pranked, or he might mess with me. I was really afraid [laughs].

But he was very professional, and incredibly funny! I never wanted to make the movie without him, he’s so immensely talented. And the character is actually based on my big brother, so I had a real affinity for him.

Nick: With Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake returning, what is the collaborative process like now that you have all been working with these characters for almost 10 years now? Do they have a fair bit of input into their own characters at this stage?

Gina Shay: I mean, we bring them in very, as we are putting together the first draft of the script. Anna lends so much authenticity to her character. She’s very connected to the story in a what where she knows exactly how her character would deliver something. It’s so wonderful to working with her because she just nails it every time, and has so much insight.

Then Justin is also our executive music producer, and he works with our team creating and working on all the covers.

Walt Dohrn: He also pitches a lot of jokes! We improvise a lot with Justin and Anna. They come up with a lot of the lines because I’m actually in the booth with them, doing the characters back and forth. We throw things around and they know the characters inside and out. They’ll tell us if they don’t their character would act that way, or don’t think they’d say that line. We’ll work that all out in the room. We’re super collaborative.

Gina Shay: We just pitch jokes back and forth to each other in these sessions. Even if we have 15 lines to pick up with Justin, we know it’s going to take a while because we’re going to be in there pitching ideas. They’re real partners on this project.

Nick: Speaking of jokes – I love how family films feature jokes and gags for us bigger kids. Stuff that might go over the younger audience’s heads! And that moment in the trailer is when Cloud Guy has a ‘rainbow hangover’ after the wedding. What is the key to balancing the line of “funny enough for adults”, but “not too crude for kids”?

Walt Dohrn: Yeah, there’s definitely a balance. We always keep the kids in mind because a lot of families go see these movies, and we have kids of our own. We always want to make sure we’re not offending anyone. But at the same time, kids are more open than the adults. Adults feel like they have to protect kids from more dangerous material, but kids are wild and open to these experiences on screen.

We’re also just trying to make each other laugh with our jokes. It might go over some people’s heads, or it might land, or will it work on both levels? You know, a character vomiting rainbows… everyone who has been to a bachelor party will know what that’s like!

Gina Shay: We like to push everybody to bring their edgiest stuff, and then we pull back from there to make it work. There are joke that go to an obvious place we’re kids will get it, and then the second part of that joke will just take a left turn. That’s how we like to set it all up.

We both worked on Shrek and Spongebob [Squarepants], and I worked on South Park, so we’ve tried to meld all of our experiences together. Plus, we have teenage kids, so we’re used to the humour being all over the place.

Walt Dohrn: It is literally a movie for everyone. That’s our goal. That’s our challenge that we set out for ourselves. We know not everyone will like it, but we try and make it as wide as possible. But, we definitely push it a bit too far sometimes, then we pull it back. It’s easier to pull back. But I think most of what we intended is in the film.

Nick: One of my favourite parts in the trailer was when the Trolls go into ‘Hustle’ mode, and they’re transported into this trippy, 2D world. As filmmakers who are passionate about the artform working with a team of animators who are just as passionate, how exciting is it to be able to explore different animation styles within the same movie? And are there any challenges that you face when combining those different styles?

Walt Dohrn: There’s always technical challenges. As great as technology is, it always takes a team to figure out how we are going to make it work. But it does get everybody excited, the idea of the ‘Hustle-verse’ and how we are going to pull that off. It’s built in the movie’s DNA. There is no limit to the possibilities in this world that is so wild and weird and full of surprises. Almost anything can happen. It has to be authentic to the characters and the narrative that we’re telling, but anything can happen. I think those moments really infuse the crew with new inspiration.

Nick: Looking at how Trolls in general have evolved from a pop-culture, toy-icon of the 60s and 70s, to the impact these characters have now on the big screen and television from what you have created with them – what has been the most exciting part of this 10 year-long evolution?

Gina Shay: It’s been such a journey, because all we started with was a doll with the spiked hair.

Walt Dohrn: The characters were a blank canvas to being with.

Gina Shay: We knew immediately that we needed to reimagine them for now, and for the future. We worked with the most amazing designers and animators to really imagine them in a way that was unexpected but works. It’s very inclusive. People can see themselves in these Trolls – all different shapes and sizes, from all different walks of life and places around the world.

I think the spirit of collaboration to get that done was reflective on screen. It feels like it brought people together and made them feel empowered.

Walt Dohrn: Our audience has also grown up with it. So now, the young audience who were watching the first Trolls, they’re now in college and we just continue to grow the franchise with them!

Thank you to Walt and Gina for their time, and to Universal Pictures for organising our chat! Trolls Band Together is in Australia cinemas from

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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