The Movie Guru: ‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’ and ‘Trolls Band Together’ a mix of bright spots and disappointments

'The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes' is now playing in theaters.
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The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (in theaters)

The biggest problem with prequels is that they’re doomed from the start.

Stories normally begin in dark places before the protagonists make things better, so prequel stories have to end in whatever dark place the original story started. While that can occasionally be chilling, a dark shadow hanging over a bright ending, mostly it’s just disappointing. Prequels can never be their own story, because the ending has to be forced into a very specific spot no matter how poorly it serves the story that came before it.

That disappointment hangs over the ending of “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.” While the movie does offer interesting glimpses of the history behind the popular “Mockingjay” novels, it also squashes a story that I would have loved to see play out on its own terms. Coriolanus Snow and Lucy Gray are hardly the heroic figures Katniss and Peeta were, but that just makes them that much more fascinating to watch. The movie (and book that serves as its basis) forces them to be a tragic romance, but they would have worked so much better as co-conspirators.

Because despite what trailers and other reviews might tell you, the younger version of President Snow was never innocent. He was an ambitious schemer from the very beginning, though not without reason, and though Lucy is better at playing innocent there are moments when she shows her own fangs. They should have been given at least a second movie to tear each other apart, not a rushed ending that felt less like the tragic weight of fate and more like a scriptwriter sweeping in.

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They could have done so much beautiful damage together. But sadly, there’s no room for something like that in a prequel.

Grade: Two and a half stars

Trolls Band Together (in theaters)

By this point, you already know if you’re a fan of the “Trolls” movies.

The series is as candy-colored as the main characters themselves, full of silly jokes, catchy musical numbers, and easily consumable life lessons. It’s completely safe for kids, great to sing along with, and even manages to be unexpectedly heartwarming on occasion. As long as you have a high sugar tolerance, it’s a surprising amount of fun.

Even if you don’t, it might be worth giving “Trolls Band Together” a try. I’ve been cynical about the series, but the movie has an open-hearted sweetness that is easy to get sucked into. The message about how important it is to be there for people scales for both kids and adults, and there are a few more serious moments that anchor it all. There’s a chance you might get emotional.

If you lived through the boy-band era, you might even laugh. Though kids in the audience probably won’t get the generous amount of boy-band jokes spread throughout the movie, there are at least a few that will make parents snicker. There are several other jokes that seemed aimed at an older audience – there’s at least one whole sequence of parenting gags – but there’s enough physical silliness to keep kids entertained.

The animation has a few real flights of fancy, including a “hustle mode” that was consistently delightful. The regular animation also had a few nice touches, including a water bead ocean you’ll absolutely want to put in your mouth even though you shouldn’t.  

Grade: Two and a half stars

Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at

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