by Matt McKenna
A population of complacent optimists unexpectedly find themselves at the mercy of a ghastly ogre: Is this the story of the Democrats in 2016 or the plot of DreamWorks’ new animated film, Trolls? As liberal American adults come to grips with how their country could elect the relatively progressive Barack Obama to the Presidency twice in a row only to immediately elect the much less progressive Donald Trump, children around the world are watching Trolls, a hard hitting metaphor for the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.
The filmmakers deserve credit for coming up with a ninety-minute movie based on nothing more than the license for a brand of goofy dolls that was last culturally relevant back in the 1990s along with other collectibles such as Beanie Babies, Furbies, and Pokemon. To turn the toy line into a movie franchise, the screenwriters gifted the Trolls with a strange backstory: Within their songful, permanently optimistic society, the Trolls’ only problem is that they are hunted by the Bergen, a diseased-looking band of ogres who find happiness only in eating the little Trolls. Every year, in fact, the Bergen enjoy a festival called “Trollstice” in which the normally mopey, grumpy, and unpleasant Bergen feast upon the bodies of the radiant Trolls to attain momentary contentment. Unsurprisingly, the Trolls eventually tire of being eaten, and they escape Bergentown by hiding in a nearby forest. After a brief chase, all the Bergen–save one–give up looking for them, and the Trolls appear to be safe forever.
The Trolls, however, are not safe forever. Chef, the last Bergen holdout, spends the next twenty years of her life attempting to locate the Trolls in order to cook them for Trollstice. Her search is unsuccessful until the overly optimistic Trolls throw one dance party too many, and the dour Bergen tracks the noise to their secret location. Chef collects a handful of screaming Trolls into her fanny pack, returns to Bergentown, and leaves Trolls’ protagonist Princess Poppy in a state of shock and sadness.
Sound familiar? How directors Walt Dohrn and Mike Mitchell could possibly have known how the 2016 Presidential election was going to unfold is beyond me, but their deft depiction of election night from the point of view of liberal Americans is striking. The party at which the Trolls are discovered by Chef closely resembles Clinton’s pre-election rallies and the election-night party where buoyant Democrats enjoyed a festival-like atmosphere–at least until the election results started trickling in. While the Trolls’ pre-Bergen dance party included a light show and a DJ voiced by Gwen Stefani, the Democrats enjoyed pre-election musical performances by Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, and others. Clearly, both the Trolls and the Democrats know how to throw a party even if they aren’t great at knowing how to identify a threat.
While the pre-Bergen and pre-election parties were similar, the partygoers’ reaction to their respective festivities’ chaotic aftermaths bares an even more stark similarity. The stunned faces on the Trolls as the Bergen walked away with their doomed compatriots match the stunned faces on the Democrats as Trump walked away with their doomed electoral votes. Furthermore, the immediate responses of the Trolls and the Democrats highlight the uncomfortable uncertainty around how the two groups could possibly recover from their bad nights. For example, when faced with the shock of the Bergen attack, Princess Poppy’s reaction is not to evaluate how she and the other Trolls ended up in their predicament, but rather she curiously continues doing the same thing that attracted the Bergen to the Trolls’ location in the first place–she belts out loud and lengthy saccharine tune about going on an adventure. Democrats have reacted similarly to their loss by continuing to hit upon the same talking points that failed to persuade enough Americans to vote for Clinton during the actual election. Though topics such as the awful things Trump said during the race and FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the Clinton email server case strike a chord with current Clinton supporters, they clearly don’t resonate with the Americans that flipped their votes from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. For both the Trolls and the Democrats, the tension in the narrative comes from both groups’ inability to adapt to changing circumstances.
The silver lining for Democrats is that if Trolls accurately represents the pre-election and immediate post-election feelings of American liberals, the conclusion of the film offers hope for the demoralized political party. Although Princess Poppy may not have much of a plan to win back her fellow Trolls from the Bergen, she is joined on her adventure by Branch, a Troll who is somehow immune to the creatures’ typical optimism. Therefore, even if the Democrats don’t currently have a plan for how to reclaim the electoral votes they lost in 2016, perhaps they too have members who can see through their party’s typical optimism to ensure that future election nights don’t end quite so poorly.