What could possibly be more fun than watching the sensational new animated feature film “Trolls?” The answer—interviewing the brilliantly creative people behind the story! Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn sat down with me recently to share their three year journey from “chicken scratch” drawings to seeing people “dancing in their seats” in the theater. It was a dreary, rainy day when I walked into the room to interview these men whose positive energy simply exuded from them and essentially parted the clouds as we discussed “Trolls.”
If you’re my age, you know, over 20 by 30 years, you’ll remember the little Troll figures or dolls. I had a pink one with sticky feet on my bed’s headboard. And now, Dreamworks, thanks to Mitchell and Dohrn, have brought these little dolls to life, giving us a wonderfully positive message while they entertain us.
Reel Honest Reviews (RHR): How did you two connect to undertake this huge project:
Mike Mitchell (MM): We went to school together back at Cal Arts [and Walt] was one of my favorite artists. We’ve always wanted to work on something together again…after “Shrek Forever After.”
Walt Dohrn (WD): Dreamworks had the little creature, the Troll doll. What made Walt and I crazy about it, there was no story. No backstory. No mythology. There was just the hair and this little stumpy guy. So we saw this as an opportunity to create a whole world and it can be influenced by everything, all this stuff that turns us on…Miyazaki, “Advernture Time” and the Muppets and Dr. Seuss books…it was our chance to put them all together.
MM: Mix them up and see what would happen if we took all of our influences and put them into a giant CGI Dreamworks movie!
RHR: So the two of you not only directed “Trolls,” you wrote it too?
WD: We bring on the script writers early on.
MM: We’re crafting the story as we’re making the film and we’re storyboarding it. We make it as rough as we can, just with Walt and I.
WD: We do the voices and draw the pictures really rough.
MM: We screen it even just with chicken scratch and us doing the voices, temporary music and sound effects. We sit back and watch the whole film and then we take it down and we make it again. So we probably make the film 10 or 11 times.
RHR: How many animators are there in the final product and when do you bring them on?
WD: About 1000 animators, but when we first started, it’s just us and the writers. Our production designer…starts to design the world as we’re writing it. Then we bring on the storyboard artists. After 6 months, we bring on more.
RHR: How do the actors influence the final character production and did you have specific actors in mind when you wrote this?
MM: Anna [Kendrick] was the first one on [and she] helped us write it too because she didn’t want to play the typical princess that you see in animation. That affected the design…this girl is really quirky and weird and fun. She never wears shoes!
WD: Even in this world today, this conversation about body image…it was important to us to have this female heroine that didn’t depict this classic beauty.
MM: Usually these princesses look like Barbie Dolls, little thin waists and little hooves. And “Poppy” doesn’t care about that and it’s great because that’s Anna’s personality too. She brought this manic positive energy to this character that is really fun. It’s like a big group of people just working together which is to make the “funnest” and most party movie we can make.
WD: But it also needs to have emotional resonance. The jokes don’t work if there’s no weight and real characters and a real message and theme of the film.
RHR: What do you feel the message is to “Trolls?”
MM: Let’s make it about happiness. I looked at some TED Talks about happiness.
WD: And there’s a great Harvard study, it’s been going on for about 4 decades about the source of happiness. We want this movie to not only make people feel good in these dark times, but also for people to have a conversation about where does happiness come from.
MM: It seems like all the media is so scary, not just for kids but for adults [too]. The news is terrifying…Let’s create a discussion about happiness…and a positive attitude. A positive attitude is underrated. We wanted to make sure the film was funny, irreverent, and silly too!
RHR: I have to ask you about Justin Timberlake and his character that doesn’t sing or dance until the end! What’s up with that?
MM: Walt thought that would be funny!
WD: We brought him in to do that voice. He’s a super funny guy and of course he can sing. We already had a couple of songs like from Earth Wind and Fire and some classic songs. He got so excited that he offered to be the music producer, executive music producer.
MM: And we said, maybe. [Laughing out loud!] Send your resume, [we said.]
WD and MM: [ Laughing even louder!]
MM: It took us half a second to say, YES PLEASE!
WD: And “Can’t Stop the Feeling” was made for “Trolls.” He said, ‘I’m going to make it a hit song too.’ We wanted it it in the ether. And then you’re going to see how we use it in the film.
RHR: People were dancing in their seats and some were singing the songs, loving every minute of it.
WD: People are really rocking out in the theater!
The conversation continued, discussing the energy of the film and the bond between the cast and crew. The sun may or may not have come out while I was inside talking with these energetic filmmakers, but I left with a feeling I couldn’t stop…happiness. 🙂
“Trolls” opens nationwide on Friday, Nov. 4