Trolls and Trolls World Tour have both been surprising success stories, combining celebrity talent with fun music and whimsical adventure. The success of the first film was especially unforeseen, with those doubting that a movie about such a has-been line of toys could do well being proven wrong. However, the same could not be said for 2019’s UglyDolls, which adapted a similar line of less than aesthetically pleasing plush. Though fingers can be pointed in different directions for that movie’s lack of success, its failure when compared to that of Trolls all hinges on nostalgia.
Here’s a look at the much bigger cultural mark that Troll dolls have made for themselves, and how failing to achieve the same paved the way for the Uglydolls’ failure at the box office.
Troll dolls first appeared in 1959, and for the next few decades, remained among the most popular and well-known children’s toys. The characters’ bright color schemes and prominent puffs of hair also made them stand out from more traditional girls’ toys, such as Barbies. There were even attempts to make spinoff lines of the dolls for boys, such as the Battle Trolls and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed Troll dolls.
While they have since waxed and waned in popularity since the ‘90s, they have more than earned their place as unforgettable, instantly recognizable figures from pretty much anyone’s childhood. The dolls even have an international element, as the originals are Danish. From Denmark, they spread in popularity to Europe before finally reaching the US.
Uglydolls, on the other hand, are much more recent, dropping onto the market back in 2001. It’s only recently, however, that the line has become as popular as it is. Given this timeframe, their cultural imprint has had less than 20 years to develop, less than half of what the Trolls had before their movie.
Many who would have grown up with the original Uglydolls are likely now too old to be in the market for a film about them. This is bolstered by the fact that the movie was clearly targeted at a much younger audience than the more general target audience of Trolls. As mentioned, the current success of the Uglydoll line wasn’t overnight, which is a far cry from the comparatively instant success of the Troll dolls. It doesn’t help that, for as weird as the Trolls look, they are at least humanoid. Uglydolls, on the other hand, are just that, and their uphill battle toward mainstream success can be attributed to their bizarre, unorthodox appearance that makes them resemble mutant Sour Patch Kids.
There are certainly other reasons for Trolls having more success than Uglydolls, though even these fall back to the element of nostalgia. The latter film’s cast was filled with celebrities such as Kelly Clarkson and Lizzo, who, while certainly popular, are more known for their musical abilities than being actors. On the other hand, Trolls featured established performers such as Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Russell Brand, and even John Cleese. Cast members who were also known for their musical talents, such as Justin Timberlake, had also already become established actors, as well. The developed brand of the actors involved was likely a selling point for parents and young adults, adding another nostalgic feature that Uglydolls simply didn’t have.
During their heyday between the ‘70s and ‘90s, the Trolls also had a litany of media appearances. These ranged from video games to cartoon specials, with a 2005 franchise revival also bringing a new animated series. On the other hand, the UglyDolls movie was the first big media push for the franchise, meaning that there was no supplemental, ancillary media to develop the line beforehand. This kept the cultural consciousness from becoming attached to the characters in a way that might influence them to go and see the movie, resulting in its tragic flop at the box office. A better course of action would have been to create a cartoon or even a line of successful books for the toys before putting them on the big screen. While the Trolls might not have had those directly before their first movie launched, over 50 years of being pop culture toy icons certainly gave them a hair-raising advantage.
While Uglydolls have only recently become huge, the Trolls' literal world tour of popularity gave them a nostalgia driven edge at the box office.