Trailblazing Trolls: Their Journey to 2023

Written by

Rosie Aiston

Published on

December 20, 2023
Time to read: 4 minutes

DreamWorks Animations recently launched a third film in the Trolls franchise Trolls Band Together (2023)! Today’s star-studded Trolls have come a long way from their humble beginnings in 1950s Denmark. Which begs the question, how have Trolls managed to evolve and maintain their popularity so securely? Well, we have a few ideas… 

1. Trolls may be ugly, they might be evil, but they’re always magical!  

When Thomas Dam, made his first troll he said “they were so ugly that you couldn’t help but laugh, and when you laugh, luck follows you.” Laughter is part of their initial appeal but it is their magic and its associated aura which gives them cultural resonance (Hilda on Netflix is a recent brand that builds on similar themes).  

The troll already had a place in Scandinavian folklore living on the ‘edges of society’ and using magic for nefarious purposes. However, by turning them into toys for children Thomas Dam repurposed the myth of the troll, making them seem more friendly, creating exaggerated features and extravagant hair that kids loved, and building a sense that these creatures would use their magic for mischief and un, not malevolence.  

Trolls even made their way into the White House, when Betty Miller (the first woman to fly solo across the pacific) took her troll doll to meet President John F. Kennedy. 

2. They open up a range of play worlds for kids to explore.  

Trolls took off in 1960s America, partly due to the duality of their appearance – wide eyes and crazy hair could be, as suggested by Tim Walsh in his 2005 book Timeless Toys, either “harmless [or] horrific.” This gives different play worlds; one of colourful mad fun, the other more sinister and mischievous.  

Their look (pie-eyed, mad hair, spiritual) also played into the hippie vibe of the 1960s.  Trolls’ connection to spirituality is part of the reason that they have maintained their social relevance – spirituality, magic and mysticism are en vogue to the extent that they get covered in contemporary primary education.  

3. Collectors have a universe of trolls to be excited by.

Although Trolls mania has had peaks and troughs over the years (apart from in Denmark), their popularity tends to surge when audiences want to access their more primal spiritual sides. They took off again in the 1990s, as internet usage became mainstream, and many parents and kids sought solace in tradition and folklore.

This resurgence was supercharged at the end of the century, as the trolls copyright ran out meaning companies were able to take Dam’s design and concept, and manufacture them on mass. This led to Trolls becoming a valuable collectible, with some Trolls being sold for listed on eBay for thousands of pounds. Different iterations of the dolls means there are whole universes of Trolls for collectors to be excited by. In 1992, Eva Stark (importer of Dam Trolls to the US) told Newsweek “Trolls are like potato chips, nobody is satisfied with just one.” 

4. Standards of beauty may change, but a troll is always a troll!

Today’s Trolls are most highly associated with DreamWorks films. DreamWorks have rebooted Trolls to feel more modern, got talent like Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake on board and added a smattering of absolute bangers (see Earth Wind and Fire re-recording September).

However, although their edges have been softened, and music has been added, at their core, the Trolls films are still about magical little weirdos who, in some way, resonate for almost every young person. The central role of the trolls means that parents (and grandparents) who grew up with them recognise them as a fun, fresh iteration of the franchise.

Ultimately, Troll Dolls have withstood the test of time because enchantment and mystery is timeless, and a troll will always be a standard-bearer for magic. Trolls reflect societal norms, whilst also standing out and reflecting something different. Whilst their look may have changed over the years, the magic Trolls deliver means they are very much here to stay. We personally can’t wait to see where they go next, and we’ll be trolling out the red carpet for the next DreamWorks film.

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