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As the school holidays approach, entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a look at a couple of big screen blockbusters — animated musical Trolls and mind bending superhero flick Doctor Strange.

Trolls (2016) — directed by Walt Dohrn & Mike Mitchell

From a marketing standpoint, Trolls has had one of the longest promotional campaigns in recent history. The almost unbearably upbeat theme song ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ was released back in May, a full six months before the movie was released, and managed the impressive feat of remaining on the charts ever since. Performed by singer, actor and Renaissance man Justin Timblerlake, the song almost perfectly represents the movie — happy, predictable and pretty much disposable.

From a story perspective, Trolls is essentially the Smurfs with a touch of Cinderella thrown in for good measure. Anna Kendrick plays Princess Poppy, the irrepressibly cheerful daughter of Troll king Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor) who holds a big party which unwittingly attracts the attention of the Troll-eating Bergens. Foil to Kendricks cheery Poppy is Branch, voiced with weary disdain by the aforementioned Timberlake. Branch is a cynic and a realist, warning Poppy of the folly of the party and accurately predicting the next hour of the movie.

Led by King Gristle (John Cleese) and his son Gristle Jr (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) the Bergens suffer under the delusion that they can only be happy if they eat a troll, despite the obvious fact that they’re pretty happy most of the time, except when they’re trying to catch and eat Trolls. Enabler of this odd fantasy is the dastardly Chef, voiced by Christine Baranski, who spends most of the movie hunting Trolls and not eating them when given the chance.

Chef’s assistant scullery-maid Bridget, voiced by Zooey Deschanel, who plays the underappreciated Cinderella to the never-happy Gristle Jr. Of course, because this is a movie aimed at very young kids, Gristle eventually sees her inner beauty, just as Branch eventually steps up and saves the day, even breaking his lifelong vow of not singing to do so.

For better or worse, there’s a lot of singing in this movie. While the trailers may not make it obvious, Trolls is a musical, with kiddie-friendly versions of songs like Mo’ Money Mo Problems, The Sounds of Silence and Hello. With the truly awful-looking Sing on the theatrical horizon, marketers could be forgiven for downplaying the musical angle, but it might be a bit of a shock for the unaware.

At the end of the day, Trolls is the perfect movie for kids aged 5-10. There’s a bit of PG action, some fun set-pieces and the usual messages about believing in yourself and so forth — just don’t expect a Pixar level of entertainment for the adults…

Verdict: 5/10 for adults, 9/10 for kids

Doctor Strange (2016) — directed by Scott Derrickson

It must be a little frustrating for the execs at Warner/DC that their rivals at Disney/Marvel can make a movie about an obscure C-list character that is both critically acclaimed and hugely profitable, while DC struggle to convince fans that the Justice League movie isn’t going to suck.

For those unfamiliar with Doctor Strange, the character was created back in the early 60s by the powerhouse team of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Steven Strange is an arrogant neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands following a car accident and in his search for a cure encounters the mysterious Ancient One, who teaches him the mystical arts and eventually elevates him to the position of Sorcerer Supreme. Accompanied by his assistant Wong, Doctor Strange battles supernatural foes from Baron Mordo and Blackheart, to Mephisto and Dormammu.

This is actually not the first crack at a Doctor Strange film, an honour which goes to the 1978 version starring Peter Hooten in the title role. While some fans raised an eyebrow at the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch, he is indisputably better than the wooden Hooten, particularly in early scenes where he gets to play the ultra-arrogant brain surgeon. Supporting Cumberbatch is a talented cast that suffered early (and entirely unfair) accusations of being whitewashed, largely due to the presence of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One.

To clarify: in the comic book Ancient One was an old Tibetan man and some people on the internet seem upset that she is now a white woman. Ignoring the fact that the whitewashing charge ignores the presence of the always excellent Chiwitel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong in headlining roles, Swinton brings an otherworldly charm to the role, providing the perfect counterpoint to Cumberbatch’s blustering confidence. Much like casting the late Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin, it’s more a case of the perfect actor for a role than ticking the appropriate box for ethnicity.

Despite some striking visual similarities to Inception, Doctor Strange manages to be a more entertaining movie through the use of some well-timed humour, notably when Strange wryly comments that ludicrously named magical artifacts like the Eye of Agamotto “really roll off the tongue”. Fans of Marvel movies will know to stay seated through the long credits sequence to see both the mid-credit Thor teaser and the setup for a Doctor Strange sequel, along with the reveal that Strange will be appearing in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War movie.

The Verdict

If you have kids under 10 who are driving you insane during this holiday period, Trolls is a relatively inoffensive choice that is done and dusted in 92 minutes, which is more than can be said for the ponderous Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (133 minutes).

If you’ve ever enjoyed a comic book movie or have a penchant for magic, Doctor Strange is excellent. Setting a high bar even among the consistently entertaining Marvel cinematic universe, Doctor Strange bodes well for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2… with Baby Groot!

Trolls — 4/10

Doctor Strange — 9/10

Like what you read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee, you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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