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Of tyrants and Trolls


WORLD Radio - Of tyrants and Trolls

New installments from The Hunger Games and Trolls movie franchises fail to inspire

Tom Blythe as Coriolanus Snow and Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Lionsgate/photo by Murray Close

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, November 17th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

Coming up on The World and Everything in It, we take a look at what’s new in theaters this weekend.

EICHER: And what’s new turns out to be more of the same old same old. Here’s arts and culture editor Collin Garbarino to talk about the latest installments from familiar franchises.

COLLIN GARBARINO: This weekend, the big new movies at theaters are the third Trolls movie and the fifth Hunger Games movie.

Let’s start with The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.


LUCY GRAY: Jessup.

VOICE: 4… 3…

LUCY GRAY: Jessup.

VOICE: 2… 1…



It’s been eight years since the last installment of The Hunger Games hit theaters, and now we’re back in Panem with a prequel to the story of Katniss Everdeen. The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is an adaptation of the bestselling novel by Suzanne Collins which tells the story of how a young Coriolanus Snow grows up to be an evil tyrant.

CORIOLANUS: Everything is about winning. If not the games now, then the crowd.

This film is set 64 years before the original story. The Hunger Games have only been going for 10 years. And some people are calling for the end of this cruel entertainment in which young people are forced to fight to the death. Coriolanus, played by Tom Blyth, has been told to mentor a young girl from District 12.

CORIOLANUS: That girl’s not going to win these games. You saw her. She’s underfed. Unstable.

The unstable girl in question is Lucy Gray Baird, played by Rachel Zegler. But Lucy Gray ends up capturing the hearts of the people and Coriolanus himself with her haunting singing.


The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is rated PG-13 for strong violence, but the violence isn’t as bad as some earlier installments, and the language is pretty mild.

The movie has a lot going for it. The Capital has an impressive mid-century German aesthetic that strikes the right note for an authoritarian society. On the other hand, the folk music of Lucy Gray evokes a sense of freedom-loving community. And Viola Davis really swings for the fences with her performance as the Capital’s evil mad scientist.

VOLUMNIA GAUL: I am Dr. Volumnia Gaul, your humble head gamemaker in charge of the War Department and all its affiliated concerns.

But the movie also has some problems. Its 2-hour-and-37-minute runtime starts to drag by the end. This is mostly due to the fact that the film sticks too close to the book. The action takes place in the first two-thirds, and then we get a sort of extended epilogue in which Coriolanus wrestles with himself in the last third. It might work in print, but not so much on the screen.

The movie succeeds in presenting the world as a brutal place filled with brutal people. It vaguely suggests there might be another way, but it fails to give any hope. If, like the movie says, there’s a songbird and a snake in every human heart, then it seems like the snake wins every time.

Let’s move from this rather pessimistic movie to our other new film, which is about as optimistic as they come.

MUSIC: [“Opening Title Medley”]

Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick in "Trolls Band Together"

Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick in "Trolls Band Together" © 2023 DreamWorks Animation/Photo by Universal Pictures

DreamWorks’ Trolls are embarking on another goofy musically inspired, psychedelic adventure in their third feature film, Trolls Band Together.

Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick return as Branch and Poppy, the franchise’s odd couple. He’s a little grumpy and always worried about risk. She's an exuberant optimistic ray of sunshine. Now they’re dating, but Branch has been keeping secrets from Poppy—four secrets, in fact.

ANNOUNCER: Give it up for BroZone!

Branch used to be in a boyband called BroZone with his four older brothers.

MUSIC: [BroZone singing]

The band broke up, and the brothers aren’t on speaking terms. But when Branch’s oldest brother shows up to report that another of the brothers has been kidnapped, Poppy tells Branch it’s time to get the band back together.

POPPY: Branch, get up there. Go sing with your brothers.

BRANCH: I’ll do it to save Floyd, when I have to. But I’m not doing it right now, just for funsies.

POPPY: Oh, yeah. You’re probably right.

BRANCH: No, no, no, no, no. You’re the one—wait, what’d you say?

Trolls Band Together is rated PG for some mild rude humor on par with the previous Trolls movies. But a bleeped out foul word feels out of place, and there’s also some suggestive dialogue between Poppy’s best friend Bridget and her new husband.

This is a straightforward story in which the heroes must track down the other brothers, each of whom has built a new life for himself. They aren’t interested in boy-band fame. They just want a normal life.

Peppy song and dance numbers punctuate the journey, but on the whole the lyrics aren't as catchy or clever as the songs in the first film. But, Trolls Band Together does feature “Better Place,” the first new song in more than 20 years from Timberlake’s former band NSYNC.

MUSIC: [“Better Place” by NSYNC]

In true kids film fashion, Trolls Band Together attempts to offer some life lessons about diligence and teamwork, but the results are mixed. By the end, the movie settles for cliche, saying that everyone—whether they’re famous or not—needs friends.

Diehard fans of these franchises will probably enjoy these movies. But if you’re not already invested, they don’t offer enough reward for the time and money spent going to see them.

For the last couple years, moviegoers have shown a preference for fresh ideas rather than the string of spinoffs, reboots, and sequels coming out of Hollywood. The prepackaged franchises aren’t making money like they used to. I’m hoping studios will soon pivot away from the neverending franchise and give us something we haven’t seen before.

I’m Collin Garbarino.

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