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The Future of Movies Might Depend on Trolls World Tour

Oh dear

two trolls fighting via guitar

The far-reaching consequences of the global coronavirus pandemic and the quarantines and stay at home orders are hard to guess, but one clue, for the entertainment industry, might come tomorrow when Trolls World Tour in unleashed upon the masses. The Dreamworks animation sequel is the first major film to completely skip a theatrical release and go straight to streaming, and it could be a sign of what’s to come for Hollywood in this brave new world.

March was, to put it lightly, a disaster for the box office. Movies that were just starting to gain steam were cut off mid-run and many others were rescheduled as every theater closed. Now, with major theater chains considering bankruptcy, Hollywood is looking to streaming to make their money, but it’s a tricky prospect.

Movies make millions (sometimes billions) in theaters, and then make additional money when they are available to rent, buy, and stream. It’s a wide window and now coronavirus has closed it. The success of the first major release to completely skip the theatrical window could point to how future releases might fare if they too go right to digital and never bow in theaters.

It’s so weird though that this all fall to … Trolls World Tour.

Trolls World Tour is the sequel to 2016 animated phantasmagoria about cheerful trolls being harvested and eaten by horrifying creatures that can’t feel happiness called Bergens. Thanks to chipper Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) who helps sourpuss troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) learn to love music again, they’re able to use music to spread joy so the Bergens don’t have to cook and eat the trolls to feel.

Yes, friends. That’s the plot of Trolls. The movie is just as weird as it sounds, trust a parent that’s had to suffer through it more than once.

The plot of Trolls World Tours sounds far less creepy and more like it’s leaning into the good parts of Trolls, which was the fun pop songs. There are apparently various tribes of Trolls based on different musical genres and the rock trolls want to go all Thanos and unite the “six strings” that represent the tribes and take over the world. Or something.

Is this a movie that people will pay $19.99 to watch at home the day it comes out? I don’t know. On the one hand, kids might be into it and it has a huge roster of famous cameos and songs. There’s also, I guess, a troll that poops glitter which I’m sure kids will love. But on the other hand … $19.99? For a troll that poops glitter? A lot of parents (and non-parents) might say “pass” until that price point comes down.

And that’s what I think will be the biggest hurdle for direct to digital releases. The idea that we have to pay twenty bucks to watch stuff at home, when we’re used to paying a fraction of that, or nothing, for so much other content? Sure Trolls World Tour is the kind of thing that my own kid would like, but there’s so much other content that’s cheaper out there. We might wait.

Another hiccup with these digital releases is that, unlike theatrical box office numbers, the grosses of these films aren’t reported. We might have no way of knowing if Trolls World Tour is a “hit” even if we are able to define what a hit is in this weird entertainment landscape. Everything is up in the air and we just don’t have enough information yet.

And that’s really what will happen with Trolls World Tour. It won’t kill theatrical exhibition of movies. It won’t sink animated movies or save Hollywood. It will give executives and analysts information about what people will or won’t pay for in the time of coronavirus. And even that information won’t be definitive, as this is, again, a movie about singing trolls that poop glitter. There’s one thing we know: there could be no weirder movie to test the public in this very weird time.

(via: The Guardian, image: Dreamworks)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.