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How Trolls Band Together Turned into a Full-on NSYNC Reunion
The geniuses behind Trolls 3 explain why Trolls and boybands are totally in synch.
With the first two Trolls movies – 2016’s Trolls and 2020’s Trolls World Tour – actually taking over the world, we weren’t exactly surprised to hear that DreamsWorks was planning a third Trolls film (although we were still plenty stoked). But then we found out that OG Trolls star and producer Justin Timberlake was literally bringing the band back together for Trolls Band Together, and we screamed with surprise and delight, the kind of high-pitched glee reserved only for boybands of a certain magnitude.
Gloriously – particularly for fans of the genre, and even more particularly for late-’90s/early 2000s boyband-era purists – the third film in the franchise inspired by the Thomas Dam-created dolls features a brand new original song, “Better Place,” from Timberlake’s hit-making old boyband, *NSYNC! (Would they be considered a manband now?)
For those of you counting at home, *NSYNC hasn’t released a new song together in 22 years. So yeah, this is kind of a big deal. But how did it all come to be? To find out more about the super reunion, why boybands and Trolls go together like PB&J, and much more about the upcoming film, NBC Insider spoke with producer Gina Shay, co-directors Walt Dohrn and Tim Heitz, as well as some of the DreamWorks design heads behind Trolls Band Together (in theaters November 17).
How Trolls Band Together Literally Brought *NSYNC Back Together
“It started out as a family band and kind of turned into a boyband by nature, as Justin embraced the idea and brought his authenticity to it,” producer Gina Shay told NBC Insider. “He did a lot of ad-libbing in our sessions with authentic humor to what it was like being in a boyband back then.”
According to Shay, she had an idea for the boyband plot device since the first Trolls film. But putting a long-disbanded band back together isn’t something that just happens.
“It wasn’t even that long ago that it did. But it’s a journey to get a band back together. And maybe that was just enough inspiration," Shay continued. "Like so many things came together: Justin and the song, and Shellback [the song's producer], finding that song, working on that song, and then thinking, 'This is a great song, and what a great opportunity for life to reflect art.' … So it went from being a tiny bit autobiographical to kind of at this point, with the real reunion of *NSYNC … a little more than a tiny bit autobiographical.”
The film follows Timberlake’s Branch, who after two movies of relentless trollplay is finally in an official relationship with Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick), fawningly dubbed #broppy by influencers everywhere. While that might seem like enough of a movie premise right there… wait, there’s more!
Poppy finds out that Branch was once a member of her favorite boyband back in the day, Brozone, along with his four brothers: Floyd (Troye Sivan), John Dory (Eric André), Spruce (Daveed Diggs) and Clay (Kid Cudi). Unfortunately, the band and family blew up when Branch was just an adorable little baby Troll, and Branch hasn’t seen them since. Alas, Floyd gets himself “kidnapped for his musical talents by a pair of nefarious pop-star villains,” notes the official synopsis, forcing Branch and Poppy on a musical mission to reunite the brothers and go rescue Floyd “from a fate even worse than pop-culture obscurity.”
So yeah, boybands aren't just in the film, they're "a vehicle for the plot,” according to Production Designer, Ruben Perez Reynoso.
“[Justin] is involved so early on… so like Gina says, she had an idea for this since Trolls 1, dealing with Branch, and his family tree, and the brothers, and the natural idea that it would be a band," Dohrn added. "And we started more talking about family bands, and blood harmony… from the Bee Gees and Jacksons, that kind of idea. And then he just embraced it, of course, and took it further.”
Why Boybands Are a Natural Fit in the Trolls Universe
It turns out that boybands and Trolls movies are perfectly sympatico.
“Trolls is such a pop explosion to begin with, such a joybomb I would say, that I think it just goes hand in hand with that type of celebratory musicality and physicality, it just kind of makes sense for those two worlds to collide.” Heitz told NBC Insider, with regards to Trolls finally putting boybands in their rightful spotlight.
“It does that thing where you can celebrate it and poke fun at it, Justin’s really great at that.” Dohrn added.
Boybands also felt authentic from a design perspective as well.
“It’s an interesting appeal of everybody on a stage performing at the same but perfectly choreographed in a perfect way that doesn’t actually exist in reality," VFX Supervisor Marc Scot said. "So there’s the inspiring aspect of watching a team work together, and at the same time, they all have individual personalities. So it’s a weird dichotomy of a band of individual personalities all performing at the exact same time.”
“I think what’s cool about it too is that you might see yourself in one of the members, there’s a little variety in the boy band.” Reynoso added.
“There’s something so satisfying about being so … in sync with each other… sorry, bound to happen,” said Head of Character Animation, Ben Willis, laughing. “There’s something just so satisfying about seeing members do their own thing, then all the sudden lining up and doing something just awesome together. And a lot of times the music is very much a guilty pleasure.”
“Or just a plain pleasure,” Heitz highlighted.
Boy band music in Trolls Band Together
With a Trolls movie, the music is as much a part of the joybomb as anything else. And that’s another reason boybands fit right in.
“When you think of the boy band era, like late ‘90s and early 2000s, the emphasis was so much on vocal harmonies, and they really chose some amazing artists for this movie… Troy Savant, Daveed Diggs, Eric Andre, and Kid Cudi round out the boy band along with Justin," marveled Joe Shirley, the film's Music Producer. "So, it’s insane, when those guys did all of their vocal parts and we were going through sessions with them, just how talented each of them are… everybody just really crushed it in a big way. And it was really fun to work with them in that sort of way, to get them to sound like a boyband together.”
Trolls – also starring the very talented likes of Camila Cabello, Amy Schumer, Andrew Rannells, Zosia Mamet, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, RuPaul Charles, Aino Jawo, Caroline Hjelt, Kenan Thompson, Anderson .Paak, Kunal Nayyar, and Ron Funches – debuts in theaters November 17 (get tickets here!).