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Saturday, January 13 2018 22:20

Becoming a Troll: An Inside Look at DreamWorks' "Trolls: The Beat Goes On!"

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On January 19, 2018, the Trolls obsession continues with a new Netflix Original Series from the crew at DreamWorks. Trolls: The Beat Goes On! picks up where the big-screen film left off, bringing a new series of colorful adventures and magical song to kids and families around the world. There are some changes to the Trolls this time around, but it tends to be the stuff that parents and hardcore fans (and trust me, Trolls has a growing legion!) will notice far before the kids do. Following both the film and recent Trolls Holiday Special, Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake step aside as Poppy and Branch (don't worry, they'll be back for Trolls 2 when it hits theaters in 2020) with Amanda Leighton (The Powerpuff Girls, This is Us) and Kendrick's Pitch Perfect co-star Skylar Astin (Wreck-It Ralph) stepping into those roles. But what if... hypothetically, it was yours truly voicing Branch instead of Skylar or Justin? Let's find out...

Last month, I was invited by DreamWorks Television to come to out to California for my second visit to the DreamWorks Animation campus in Glendale (all of this on their dime -- disclosure and all). Having previously visited during the ramp-up to Voltron: Legendary Defender and Home: The Adventures of Tip and Oh, I was familiar with the place and looked forward to another trip. 

During my visit, I had a chance to view a few episodes of the series in the screening room on the lot, in addition to spending some time with Executive Producer Matthew Beans, Composer Alex Geringas, Songwriter Alana Da Fonseca, Supervising Producer Frank Molieri and Supervising Director Jim Mortensen along with Amanda and Skylar. But amid all the normal media activities and business at hand, there was a hypothetical thrown out. What if, in some alternate reality, it was me performing Branch? This is what happened when I stepped into the booth to do a little ADR (automated dialogue replacement) under the direction of Matthew Beans...

Now, the ADR booth is a favorite activity at these media events, but since I have a history of acting in addition to my writing, I wanted to give the best performance possible. And funny enough, this comes at a time when I'm about to actively seek a new agent in an effort to ramp-up that side of things after taking a break for a few years while my girls have been little. More on that at another time.

Trolls: The Beat Goes On

"Trolls: The Beat Goes On! picks up right where the movie left off, and that leaves us with a lot of territory to explore. You may recall that in the movie, only the first twenty minutes or so actually happens in Troll Village, so we deep-dive in the series to really explore what goes on in that world. Mostly this surrounds what Poppy has to do as Queen, and that concerns making sure that the status of fun is kept at a premium, while caring for all of her friends and their needs. Branch, being such a misfit outsider, and having been living underground for ten years, is a useful narrative tool since he can always ask that question for the audience that they're thinking. 'What's this super crazy thing?' Then we get to define it. This is really about Troll Village and what their day-to-day life is like." -- Matthew Beans

Trolls: The Beat Goes On

For fans of DreamWorks Trolls, the most noticeable difference may be in the visuals - that the 3D animation of the big-screen film has been replaced by 2D for television, yet somehow it retains the same vibrance that audiences already fell in love with. Also interesting to note is that the long development and production time in animation means that Skylar and Amanda performing Branch and Poppy is something that was in the works long before anyone actually saw Trolls. In fact, DreamWorks had to show them the original film long before its release to make sure that the voice cast for television would be able to have the same vibe as their cinematic counterparts. Having seen the first few episodes, it totally works, and there's a lot there for audiences of all ages.

Amanda Leighton and Skylar Astin

"When we booked the project, we had a chance to watch the film, and after that everything really clicked," recalled Leighton. "It was like, 'Ah! This is who she is!' Poppy is optimistic and will do anything for her friends. It was also really cute to see when the movie came out how the kids that see it just light up. It's just so colorful and fun, and each episode that we're doing has a lesson that goes with it."

"Every episode of the show is so dynamic," explained Astin about his role as Branch. "In 'Pillow Fight,' I give a Braveheart-style speech. Being able to do these simple, sweet stories with Poppy and then doing a scene where I'm imagining that I'm about to go to war - playing it completely straight, by the way, to give it that irony and realism that they really wrote, it just such a well-crafted show."

Beans points out that the series is "very visual, and not really talky." He also notes that casting Amanda as Poppy was largely because she captured an aggressiveness that is underlying in her personality. "She's not just enthusiastic, she's aggressive about it. She has to party HARD! This has to be the BEST! Amanda really owns that."

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DreamWorks Trolls: The Beat Goes On! premieres January 19, 2018 - only on Netflix. Stay tuned for features that look at the music, animation and merchising of Trolls...

James Zahn

James Zahn is not a journalist, nor a blogger, though he may be credited as such by others, or even accept the title... depending on the circumstance.  Instead, he considers himself largely to be an "entertainment and lifestyle writer," bringing 25+ years of experience in the entertainment and publishing industries into the family realm as THE ROCK FATHER™.

As a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur, James now finds himself raising a pair young girls - The Rock Daughters™ - along with his wife from their Illinois home.

He is a member of The Toy Insider Parent Advisory Board, has contributed to The Toy Book and regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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