A Chat With ‘Trolls’ Co-Directors Mike Mitchell & Walt Dohrn On Music, Happiness and All Of That Hair


When Trolls debuted in theaters last fall, the whimsical story of the fearless but cheerful Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and her disgruntled nemesis Branch (Justin Timberlake) delighted audiences across the world. From the bright and vibrant colors to the sensational music including the Oscar-nominated “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” Trolls snagged a soft spot in all of our hearts. Ahead of the DVD release, I got the chance to chat with co-directors Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn about all the whimsy, music and what’s up next. 

Aramide Tinubu: Hi Mike and Walt how are you guys?

Mike Mitchell: I’m well how are you?

AT: I’m great, thank you! I just wanted to say thank you both so much for taking the time to speak to me about Trolls.

Walt Dohrn: You bet!

AT: Fantastic! I know you’ve worked together previously on Shrek and SpongeBob SquarePants, so how did you decide to come on to this project together?

MM: It was actually quite joyful because Walt and I have been looking to work together again and this was an opportunity for us to get together, and we brought together a lot of people that we had worked with us on the Shrek movies. So, it was kind of like getting the band back together; it was a lot of fun. Also, since this wasn’t a sequel and there was no history or back-story to Trolls, we just saw it as an opportunity. Everyone just kind of exploded with creativity.

WD: Yes. We talked a lot about how excited we were that we had this sort of blank slate. Like Mike was saying, there wasn’t a universe that existed, I think that was the most exciting thing for the team and us.

AT: Troll dolls were super popular when I was growing up in the ’90s. What was it like reimagining them and updating them for the 21st-century and what characteristics did you want to implement in the trolls for this new audience?

MM: We wanted to make sure that we kept that hair. That was the only rule that we gave ourselves. We thought, “They gotta have that hair!” Then we thought, let’s make that hair do as much as we can with it. So the trolls could grow their hair, and they could use it like a monkey tail, they could use it like a whip and swing from it; they could change the color and the shape of it. So, that was the only thing we really stuck to aside from their little stumpy bodies and their cute/ugly look. (Laughing)

WD: Another thing that we wanted to do because it’s today and we’re telling this kind of contemporary fairytale even though it takes place in a world beyond our own is that we wanted a non-traditional princess in the center of the story.

AT: Speaking about Princess Poppy, she’s so lively and magical, but she also learns so much about herself over the course of the film and the journey that she takes. So, how important was casting this film for you guys? Did you know that music was going to be at the center of the movie? Did you want a particular type of actress to play Poppy?

MM: Yeah absolutely! We knew even from the outline stages that this was going to be a musical. And, our very first choice which we were so lucky because it set the tone for the rest of the cast was Anna Kendrick. She came on very early, and she kind of helped us craft the character. Poppy can almost seem like a very naive character because she is so positive, but Anna brought this spunkiness to her, and this spark to her. Not only is Anna a terrific actor she is very funny, and she can sing beautifully. Like I said, that set tone for the rest of our cast. From there we were like, “OK, everyone has to be a terrific actor, and they were, and we wanted to make sure they had a sense of humor, and they could sing.” So that evolved into Justin Timberlake and then James Corden and Zooey Deschanel; so we called them the triple threat.


AT: What was the most difficult aspect of making this film?

WD: It was definitely a challenge to create this world that you’ve never seen before as far as a technical challenge. The continued challenged from movie to movie is a great act three which is something we really struggled with. Because music was such new aspect for me personally, I’ve never worked on a film where music was this integrated in telling the narrative, so I think I think it was really something new to deal with.

MM: Not to mention our act three was helped a lot when Justin [Timberlake] came aboard as our music supervisor. He just happened to construct a song, that really solved some of our story guidelines for the end of our movie. Then it just happened to become a hit song.

AT: It’s more than a hit, “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” is Oscar-nominated!

MM: Can you believe it?!

WD: Oscar-nominated.

MM: It deserves it because not only did Justin provide a great voice for the character Branch, he gave such a great sound to the entire movie and then he gave us this gift of a third act sound that really helped us with a problematic story moment that we had. He really summed it up beautifully.

AT: I think powerful messages in children’s films have become more and more important especially considering the state of the world today. King Gristle Jr. and Branch both have changes of heart. What was the overarching message that you wanted both kids and adults to take away from this film?

MM: It was very important, and Walt and I discussed this before we even began to work on the script with our writers that we wanted the film to be about something. Because of the times that we live in, we decided that we wanted it to be about happiness. Our main message that we wanted to get across was that everyone is born with this innate sense of happiness and you can tap into that. Happiness is within, and it’s not something you can find outside. It’s not something you can get by purchasing something or eating something or taking anything. It’s something that every single human on this planet has because happiness is within.

WD: Yes, absolutely. That was our biggest thematic message that we wanted to communicate with the audience and then connected with that is the practicality of an optimistic attitude. Having an optimistic attitude helps you achieve your goals, and I think we see that through Poppy.

MM: I think that’s another thing an optimistic attitude is really underrated especially today.


AT: What’s next for you guys? I’ve heard whisperings about Shrek 5!

MM: I love those films, I love them! Walt and I have crafted a really amazing sequel to the Trolls film, and it expands the universe. And, it not only expands it with more creatures and more to the world but it really expands it musically; it really takes it in a different direction, so Justin Timberlake really excited about it. Meanwhile, I’m also directing the sequel to The Lego Movie, so it’s very exciting to work with my friends Chris Miller and Phil Lord. So that’s also an evolution to the first one, which is one of the most fun and crazy films that I’ve ever seen.

AT: It was sensational.
MM: This one picks up right where that one left off. His little sister comes down to play. It’s really fun! It’s just a fun world.

WD: We love family movies, movies for everyone we call them. There are just so many more stories to tell.

AT: Thank you both so much for your time it was great to speak with you.
WD: Nice to talk to you.

MM: Thanks, this was great.

Trolls is coming to Blu-ray/DVD on February 7 (available on Digital HD now).