Who could forget the seemingly unstoppable "Troll" craze, where everyone on the planet littered their desk with fuzzy-haired rubber gnome figures and swore they were lucky? Troll dolls had been around for decades, but the fad really kicked off in the early 1990s, for reasons unbeknownst to me but probably having something to do with God having a friend over and trying to impress him by making the four billion idiots he created fall in love with fuzzy-haired rubber gnome figures. Trolls came in all shapes and sizes -- from the cheapo pencil-topper varieties, to the higher-end "Russ Trolls" with peculiar outfits and marble eyes, to the hundred-dollar Super Trolls sold in specialty shops with porcelain name tags and oak shelf stands. There wasn't a student in my junior high school who arrived without a Troll of some kind: even the jocks had 'em. And, since no one corporation seemed to own any provable copyright on the look, there were roughly sixty-five million companies simultaneously producing Troll dolls. I'm not even counting the yarn-haired ones from Taiwan in that figure.
So popular were Trolls that the fad branched out well past mere dolls. There were a few cartoon shows, Halloween costumes, fashion accessories...all sorts of crap. None of the Trolls' extracurricular activities ever really caught on, evidencing the cardinal rule of Trolldom: if we couldn't play with the funky hair, we didn't want anything to do with 'em. In that, it goes without saying that any attempt to put Trolls on film was in vain. The cartoons were bad enough, but one company took things a sadistic step further in 1992 by releasing a series of live-action direct-to-video flicks starring a couple of guys in the scariest Troll costumes you ever did see. "The Treehouse Trolls" was the title of this series, and I stand firm in my belief that it's in fact worse than any movie previously reviewed on this site and christened the "worst movie ever." The movies were basically Barney ripoffs with awful Trolls replacing the purple dinosaur, an idea so terrible even in its conception that the end result had no place to go but Hell itself. Today we review one of these videos, called "The Forbidden Forest." I don't think I can properly prepare you for what we're about to see, but if you think I've cried wolf one too many times with similar claims, believe me when I say that it's the only video that's ever made my VCR throw up electronic guts and explode. My words can only convey so much, so stay tuned for a bunch of video clips following the review.
We kick off in the definitively generic bedroom of young kids Jackie and Lisa, who've just moved into a new neighborhood and have yet to find new friends. They're both kind of upset about it, particularly Jackie, who appears to have contracted legit retardation from the depression. Despite Lisa's thick ignorant sub-city accent that makes her sound like me, she's miles ahead of Jackie in the acting department. If a witch collected stands of hair from every annoying child actor in the world and mixed it into a cauldron full of dragon's blood, I'm pretty sure Jackie would pop out and misspeak the word "hello." The video hadn't been playing for two minutes, and already I'd found a replacement for the Amy Monkey 8x10 taped over my dartboard.
The producers had their work cut out for them, drawing from a budget that wouldn't get two combo meals from Burger King. The audio is terrible -- if anything happens offscreen, like the director asking for coffee or a bullet to the brain, it's perfectly audible in the movie. Speaking of the director, I'm pretty sure they just propped up a Boba Fett cardboard standee in the chair, because these kids are fucking up without a parachute. At the start of the film they're supposed to look like they're casually playing with toys. Instead, Lisa indifferently bounces a doll up and down while Jackie rolls a truck back and forth in a three-inch line, picking his nose and trying to make it appear as if he's just scratching the outside.
Grandpa shows up to grab some hugs, but the kids aren't in the mood to hug because there's nobody around to play with 'em. Awwww. I've so been there. Pop offers words of encouragement that suspiciously sounded more insulting than motivating, but he makes up for it by pulling a Troll doll out of a white box and literally rubbing it over his crotch. I picked my eyeballs up off the floor just in time to catch the official Troll origin of this continuity: they used to be big bad assholes, but somewhere in the course of history they became the cute, gregarious creatures we know and love today. Grandpa gives the kids the doll and expects it to make up for the lack of real people to hang out with, but he's acting a little kooky so we know he's hip to the truth: those dolls are alive!
From here on out, it just gets worse and worse, and worse, worse and worse and worse. Last chance to turn back and head for a more uplifting article, like the time I dressed as Dracula and reviewed the He-Man Slime Pit.
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Sure enough, the doll comes alive as the kids sleep. Lisa's scared at first, but once "Bumpy Frumkis" (or something of that nature, who cares) makes with the cherubic jokes and the happy-go-lucky, she's convinced that he's worth having a tea party with. Jackie agrees in his own unique little way -- sort of a cross between an affirmative shrug and an epileptic fit. Bumpy, standing three apples tall and superimposed so poorly that he's got chunks of white canvas surrounding him like Heaven's Glow, invites the kids to his homeland forest. They're happy to go along for the ride, because when your toys come alive and invite you to alternate dimensions, it's always an automatic YES.
After Bumpy explains some of the many Troll nuances, like how they scramble the syllables of words around for no apparent reason and how they love eating berry burgers, a problem presents itself: the kids are too big to fit in Bumpy's forest. How does one go about solving this? In Bumpy's case, he just tickles the kids feet until they shrink. I didn't think it was going to work, but one star wipe and a cymbal crash later...
Bumpy informs the kids that the only way to get to Troll Forest Supreme is by boarding a toy school bus. Okay, I think this is the point that I'd start having some misgivings about the trip. Bumpy's lucky he's dealing with Jackie and Lisa instead of...well, anyone else. Even my cats would know better. They don't actually show the crew boarding the bus, because that would involve special effects that need technology greater than Adobe Premiere 1.3 to create. Yet, in a flash, there they are, in outer space, flying across the stars in the toy bus. It's absolutely the most surreal thing I've ever seen. To pass the time, Bumpy starts singing a song the kids have never heard but still know all the words to, and even more incredible is Jackie's ability to sing without moving his lips. The trio trade verses, and when Bumpy gets his turn, Jackie and Lisa react to it like he's unleashing the fury of every great dumb blonde joke ever made, doubled over in laughter to the point where the term must be upgraded to tripled over. It's the kind of scene that invokes a universal silence -- viewers don't laugh, comment or otherwise react for fifteen minutes, lulled into stasis by the unbridled madness of it all. By the time I sputtered out a "what the fuck," it was like three in the morning and the VCR had already gone through the whole replay / blue screen / auto-rewind process five times over. And I had pissed myself at least twice.
So they get to the forest, sing some more songs, check out the goods, yadda yadda yadda. After the kids soak it all in, Bumpy takes 'em up to his treehouse and introduces all of his equally frightening Troll friends. There's a Troll Dad, a Troll Mom -- even a pair of Troll Kids, the sight of which will likely keep me up at night from now till 2027. Bumpy was bad, but the rest were much, much worse. The other Trolls are louder and more "in your face," with jagged movements and two-piece masks that frequently collapse and hide their mouths in folds of oversized latex cheeks. Jackie and Lisa react to the visuals as anyone would: with complete and utter shock. Jackie looks like he just saw his parents get run over by a truck with spooky ghosts painted on the doors; Lisa bites her lip so hard that she spends the duration of the film looking like the before picture in a billboard for a collagen defect law firm. I can't believe anyone thought they could get these freaks over as lovable children's characters -- they're twice as creepy as Pennywise, with huge soulless eyes and voices that crack like the evil stepfather's belt. And their clothes! All wrong!
Good God, look at them! LOOK! The script for this thing indicates a target demographic of five-year-olds, but would kids that young be able to stomach such visceral imagery? I mean, Christ, I used to shit myself when that little Scrubbin' Bubbles cartoon dude came on TV. This is so much worse. The Trolls unveil their secret handshake, a long process involving hitting elbows, hugging, bumping asses and generally making fools of themselves. I still can't get over how frightening the Troll kids look -- even more of a turnoff than the freaky freaks seen in the Garbage Pail Kids movie. The mother troll kicks off a song that goes on longer than Paradise by the Dashboard Light, with Jackie and Lisa failing to remember the words but adequately covering for it by staring at the floor and making baseball umpire gestures with their hands.
The film's attempt at a positive message rears its ugly Troll head: "There's nothing to it, but to do it." Hooookay. That'll solve a lot of playground issues for sure. Somewhere along the way, Bumpy casually mentions that if the kids aren't able to teleport back to their world by nightfall, they'll be trapped in Trolland forever. Notice how he didn't mention this before they left? Jackie reacts to the potentially lethal news by clenching his teeth and doing a robot dance. The film made me long for a society that considered people in their mid-twenties who drop acid chic. "The Treehouse Trolls" is so calling for a trip.
Lest anyone think we've hit the core and can't go any lower, witness the fabled Troll competitive spirit in the form of a stickball game. Bumpy introduces stickball as if it's an all-new phenomenon that hadn't existed outside of Troll Forest before 1992, and fortunately for him, he's got the right audience of kids to push that line of bullshit. Jackie and Lisa eat it right up, and during the big game, everyone takes turns hitting foam balls (picked right off of trees -- that's how big stickball is in Troll Forest) across a seven-foot field of grass. Bumpy even wears an official baseball uniform and makes pop references to the Brooklyn Dodgers. I think the writers threw that in there so helpless parents would get to hear at least one line that didn't make them bleed internally.
I'm not sure how exactly, but the stickball scene (complete with stickball song) leads to the debut of the Troll Forest's star villain, a character so enchanting that I can't even remember what letter his name began with. We'll call him "Evil Troll." A series of mishaps that began with missing cookies and ended with the foam stickball balls disappearing in midair paints only one possible culprit: Evil Troll, the bastard brother of Troll Kingdom. Bumpy tells the story of how some Trolls are still evil from the old days, and warns the kids that Evil Troll may in fact eat them. Only when Bumpy said it, he managed to make it all rhyme.
Shown at the left is Evil Troll, who doesn't really look much different from the others save for the Dumbledore beard. He captures the good monsters, leaving Jackie and Lisa in the unenviable position of a rescue attempt. From a convenient window in his prison made of rock, Bumpy tells the kids that the only way to make Evil Troll good is by charming him with the human spirit. Again, he gets it across in rhyme. The kids aren't too confident of their capabilities until Jackie remembers the film's groundbreaking philosophy: "There's nothing to it, but to do it!" God I hate Jackie. Kid ruined my perfect streak of liking every Jackie I've ever come across. Roseanne's sister, Mason, Gleason, the guy who used to be on Stern, even Pam Grier. I've never hated a Jackie until now. I don't think I'll ever be able to love one again. Thanks, ass.
During the big confrontation, the kids try to sway Evil Troll to the Side of Light by making goofy faces at him. Seriously. It almost works, too. Evil Troll falls to the ground, not quite defeated but still injured from the power of the human spirit illustrated by Jackie's ability to stick his tongue out and make "nyah nyah" noises, and that's the kids' chance to go in for the kill. To completely convert Evil Troll, they tickle his feet and lay out various incantations in a scene so sneakily sexual that I'm hoping Martin Lawrence never sees it cause he'll sue all y'all asses for almost giving Runteldat an NC-17 and letting this one slide with a G. By the way, ever hear Martin's explanation for that film's title? I quote: "Means you run, and you tell that." Makes you yearn for the days of Cole being doopid.
Anyway, the best way to make bad Trolls good is by going apeshit on their feet, so within moments, Evil Troll magically transforms into Good Troll Charlie.
It's an incredibly happy ending, both because of its nature and because it's an indication that the movie's over. Good Troll Charlie thanks Jackie and Lisa about six hundred times for saving his soul, while the rest of the crew thanks them an additional six hundred times for freeing 'em from the dastardly rock cave. You can't believe how many thank-yous these kids got in a five minute span. You could develop a cure for cancer and still go without a reception like this. After a weird scene where the kids pick petals off of fake flowers and sing about ponies, they teleport back home and are forced to live life never knowing if the whole thing had been a dream or not. I fucking wish.
The next morning, Jackie and Lisa discuss the previous night's activities only vaguely, both unwilling to be the first to say "hey, were we in Trolland last night or what?" Before their conversation goes past grunts and tee hees, a couple of kids from down the street walk in to welcome our heroes to the neighborhood. Jackie suggests that they all play stickball, nyuk nyuk, to which Lisa adds that it's "a great new game." Uh huh. Grandpa stands proud, cognizant of the fact that his grandkids just went to Troll Hell. Why are grandfathers always so insightful in shows like this? My grandfather would've kicked me in the head for just collecting Troll dolls, never mind claiming that they were taking me to faraway treehouses. During the credits is a highlight reel spotlighting the film's best scenes, like when Bumpy drove a school bus through space and when Mother Troll blamed Jackie for stealing cookies.
Grandpa introduces Bumpy, the mysterious Troll doll from beyond. The kids can't believe their eyes. They also can't believe Grandpa thinks this will solve all their problems. Senility is not divine. (.wmv)
It's the clip you've gotta see. Bumpy, Jackie and Lisa board a plastic school bus and fly through outer space, singing awful songs and cracking up over how stupid it was to sign on for this project. (.wmv)