INTERVIEW: Joel Crawford talks Dreamworks’ “Troll’s Holiday” – Animation Scoop

INTERVIEW: Joel Crawford talks Dreamworks’ “Troll’s Holiday”

A little more than a year after DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls danced into theaters, earning nearly $350 million worldwide, the gang is back in a new TV special. Trolls Holiday premieres Friday night on NBC and then out on DVD on Tuesday. The special is directed by Joel Crawford, who definitely can’t stop the feeling of excitement that comes with the return of these fun characters.

Jackson Murphy: How long was production on “Trolls Holiday” and did it overlap with the movie?

Joel Crawford: It did not overlap with the movie. I was a head of story on the “Trolls” movie, and after I finished wrapping that, I went on to direct “Trolls” commercials. There was a little bit of time in between when the movie ended, I directed commercials for the “Trolls” and then went onto… at that time we were in meetings. We wanted to continue the relationships of the characters, the newfound friendship between Poppy and Brigid.

And it was really important to go, “What’s the right story to continue that if we were to do a holiday special?” So we didn’t overlap. We were mining for what the right story was, and so shortly after that – a few months after that – we started to lock into what the holiday special could be.

JM: You talk about continuing the relationships. What were some of your goals as far as advancing these characters?

JC: One thing that was such a fun discovery in the first “Trolls” – after working on it for, like, four years and seeing these characters evolve, you’re always trying to find who Poppy is. Who’s Queen Poppy? Who is Branch? And you live with these characters for so long that they really are real to you and you know them so well. And it’s nice when the audience… gets to know that character through watching the movie. They get to know who Poppy is – this eternal optimist and she has this tunnel vision when she gets a goal in mind and is so focused.

Joel Crawford

It was a fun opportunity to go, “OK – everybody loves the relationship between Poppy and Brigid so much”. In talking to people they’re like, “We want to see more of that.” It was so cute and so charming to see this monster girl who befriends this little eternal optimist Troll – and to see the change that Poppy brought into their world. And so we used this as… almost like a featurette: let’s continue that story; let’s see… how their relationship progresses.

Poppy has changed the Bergens and brought them happiness, but she sees that there’s something missing. They don’t have one holiday on their calendar. And she feels bad for them, so she gets determined to go bring them a holiday. You continue that relationship of Poppy and Brigid – getting to know each other better.

And Branch, in the first movie, opened himself up to embrace happiness. No one changes on a dime. We saw Branch get super colorful and he sang. We love the character Justin Timberlake brought. And what was fun was going, “OK – now this character is now embracing happiness. What’s that like?” Branch continues his growth as a character. He’s happy now, but showing it outwardly is a little awkward. He’s trying to figure out his smile. He’s a little awkward with how to smile.

JM: You’re right about Poppy’s tunnel vision. She comes-up with a bunch of different ideas for them. How many ideas did you and your team come-up with for holidays?

JC: Oh, man. We had so many brainstorms. What was great was we had the original storyboard artist – the same crew from the movie. They knew the Trolls so well. And we would sit in a room and just through so many ideas out… we probably came-up with 200 holidays. And I think what ended-up in the special was what was actually the best of those. There were some pretty lame ones that we came-up with, to be honest. But that’s the process.

JM: What challenges did you find in crafting a 22-minute “Trolls” adventure as opposed to a movie four times that length?

JC: One of the big challenges was because it only is 22 minutes, you love these characters so much, and you want to service everybody. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that. We couldn’t get all the characters we love so much in and get enough screen time. But on the flip side, it was nice to go “What’s really important?” and build a focus on Poppy and Brigid and their friendship.

King Gristle – it was so great to get to have Christopher Mintz-Plasse back and to see how he’s even changed in terms of how he treats Brigid. He’s such a loving, supporting boyfriend to Brigid. So there was so much fun to mine… and Branch’s story. Really it all circles around those four characters and whoever else supported that… James Corden was so, so talented and so funny that I always try to get more stuff in with him. He was so amazing. Really, the whole cast was great.

JM: And how do you think Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake approached Poppy and Branch differently this time around?

JC: You know what was great is that they didn’t really approach them differently as much as bring the same enthusiasm and the same commitment from the movie to these characters, and their in-depth knowledge of these characters. We had great writers on this and a great story, but as soon as Anna and Justin came in, they made those characters live. And their dynamic – their back and forth – was so great. They would improvise lines.

And Anna would say, “I don’t think Poppy would say that. I think it’d go like this…”. And you’d listen to it and go, “Oh, she knows Poppy.” And the same with Justin. So, I’m very grateful they actually brought the same enthusiasm that they did from the movie to these parts.

JM: I love that the scrapbooks are back. They were very prominent in the film. Essentially, you’re making other versions of each character. So what goes into making those scrapbooks?

JC: The art department really works hard. They would do so many different versions of what the characters could look like as these, like, almost simplified emoji kind of icons of the CG characters. What was great is that we had the same crew from the first movie that was designing the scrapbooks. When I would come in and [see] the art dailies and check it, it was already amazing. They had such a great tab on what it was. The look of it… is just so charming.

On the first movie, it was a challenge when they were trying to discover what the look of a scrapbook could be, especially with everything so done on computers these days. [They were] trying to get this child-like, imperfect feel to it. Not everything was symmetrical. And what was great was the lessons they learned from the first one, they would cut out these characters – everything was done by hand for the scrapbook – and then they would scan it into the computer. And they continued that over on this holiday special and brought the knowledge from the first movie into the holiday special.

JM: And you can’t have a “Trolls” holiday special without music. Are there any songs here that are destined to become new holiday classics?

JC: (laughs) I think time will tell that, but what’s cool is that we have captured that joy – that happiness and that holiday feel. It’s a lot of existing songs, much like the first movie, and one original song that is kind of – in a way – a nod to a 90s rap. It kinda switches it up a little bit. When Poppy goes to present the Bergens… all these many, many holidays that the Trolls have. The Trolls celebrate so many different things. And so they’re just rapid-fire, machine gun shooting a bunch of ideas at them.

And there’s a nice rap that goes along with that, too to overload the Bergens where they’re like, “These are too many ideas”. And it’s really fun, tunnel vision Poppy – getting carried away but having good intentions. And I think the fun is, when you listen to the rap, it definitely has the fun and the self-aware quality that we like.

“Trolls Holiday” airs this Friday, November 24th at 8:30pmET on NBC, and is available on DVD Tuesday, Nov. 28. The soundtrack is out now.

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website Lights-Camera-Jackson.com, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
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