Triple Feature: Exploitation in Trolls, Pinocchio, and The Lego Movie

I went out to buy Trolls on DVD and came home with The Lego Movie and Pinocchio as well, so I figured, why not get a blog post out of what was probably a stupid financial decision on my part?

My second favourite thing about Trolls was the exploitation stuff, and I’m pretty sure that’s a common thread in Lego for sure, and I seem to recall donkeys in Pinocchio so sure, let’s go with exploitation as a topic and examine how each of these three otherwise unrelated movies handle it.



Everyone knows that Bergens are unable to feel happiness unless they eat a Troll. This statement of absolute fact is repeated often by Chef, who obviously has a lot riding on all of the Bergens believing it, but the Trolls believe this too. Poppy’s history lesson includes the claim that Bergens don’t sing, don’t dance, and don’t hug. We see them not hugging, sure, but we also see them trudging along to the beat of a song they’re most definitely singing. A deleted scene shows Chef singing a villain song. And Bridget, without prompting from the Trolls, sings Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” about King Gristle. And with just a bit of encouragement at the end, the Bergens start dancing.

It doesn’t take long, once Poppy and Branch reach Bergen Town, for Poppy to realize that Bergens can be happy without eating Trolls, despite the fact that she’s grown up believing that to be impossible. Although Branch insists that “Bergens don’t have feelings,” Poppy, having witnessed Bridget be sad about King Gristle not noticing her existence, begins to realize that they don’t know everything about their enemies. Poppy decides to form a partnership with Bridget rather than running around screaming trying to get away from her.

When it’s time for the trolls to move on and save Creek, Bridget despairs because she’s certain that she needs the trolls to be “Lady Glitter Sparkles” and keep King Gristle’s attention. But later, as the Trolls are regaining their own happiness and hope, Bridget decides to set them free and suffer the consequences which at this point are a lot worse than Gristle realizing that she’s a scullery maid. She and her Troll friends have progressed from having very, very conflicting interests, to a mutually beneficial hairdo-based deception scheme, and finally to a point where Bridget will risk her life for them, and where Poppy will return the favour.

This scenario probably couldn’t work in this movie, but indulge me: if the Trolls hadn’t been able to regain happiness before the feast, maybe the happiness Bergens gain from eating them wouldn’t be possible. If this movie had decided that Branch’s approach to life was better than Poppy’s, for example, this very thing may have been his strategy. “Let’s all be sad so that we don’t actually make them happy when they eat us. Wooot,” he would say, I guess. But again, I don’t know what kind of movie that would be. What we have instead is that they feel better, and Bridget, because of empathy, releases them.

It’s Poppy and her friends’ empathy at the end that allow Bergens to find their happiness. Poppy says, “She deserves to be happy. They all do.” So the dream team go back and put themselves in danger to explain how to be happy to the Bergens. Empathy is held up at the end as the true way to give someone else happiness rather than someone exploiting someone more vulnerable to attain it at their expense.


All right, Pinocchio. I haven’t seen this in at least a decade and a half, and I’m nervous. Mostly I’m nervous because I remember not being a fan, but I’m also worried that it’ll have nothing to do with exploitation. So I’m going to watch it and record all of what will surely be my astute and useful reactions as I’m watching.

It’s 12:00 am. Why am I doing this at this time this was a stupid idea.

12:01 am and I guess I’ll admit one of my shortcomings as a human being: being easily bored by long opening credits. I’m glad they don’t do this anymore.

12:04: Jiminy Cricket doesn’t look much like a cricket. Missing a couple of legs and some wings, he is. Also he’s breaking and entering.

12:06: Figaro just showed up. And I guess that isn’t the worst Italian accent I’ve ever heard on Geppetto.

12:09: I’d completely forgotten about that fish.

12:10: Geppetto is using his puppet to harass Figaro. What.

12:15: Figaro is the true hero of this movie and I feel bad for him.


12:18: Jiminy, you’re a cricket. She’s a… fairy.

12:22: I don’t want to be cynical but I kind of think he’s been set up for failure. He just has to be of impeccable character, that’s all, no big deal.




12:30: cue the furries. Why do they care about a wooden boy, don’t they have Zootopia fanart to draw or something?

12:32: OK so temptation number one: fame, offered by greedy exploitish anthropomorphic animals.


12:36: oh good, racism. Bring back the furries.

12:48: Pinocchio and Jiminy are pretty sure this situation is their own faults. Nope, guys. And if the Blue Fairy gives him crap I’m concluding that she’s the enchantress from Beauty and the Beast.


12:51: she’s that enchantress. The Beast was 11 when she overreacted at him too, so, lady. Surely you could be testing someone more deserving of your moralistic scrutiny than little kids.

12:53: oh no, the donkey thing is happening isn’t it. And the furries are horrified. Rightly so. But apparently they’re still going to help this horrific stuff happen, so, cool.

12:56: the second temptation is vacation. I would lose on this one.


1:02: I didn’t realize that playing pool was such a bad thing.

1:03: this cricket is useless. And there’s a lot of foreshadowing happening and I reeeeeally don’t like it.

1:04: NOPE.


1:06: I can’t express how much I hate this right now.

1:09: … what? A… what? But. What?


1:14: I’m still confused. How did Geppetto mess up searching for Pinocchio so badly that he ended up in a whale.

1:15: is he feeding fish to his fish. This guy is a mess.

1:17: that’s a nice reunion amongst dying fish. Very sweet.

1:23: I guess the third temptation is surviving. Cool. And where are Cleo and Figaro during all of this?

1:24: oh there they are.

1:25: suck it, Blue Fairy.

1:26: nooo not the clocks again.

1:28: and it’s over. Wow.

Good, there was exploitation. Mainly of vulnerable children. I could go back and forth for a while about whether the movie is really suggesting that Pinocchio and the other boys that ended up as donkeys sold into slavery deserve to be exploited as they are, but I think instead I’ll invoke the Rule of Red Riding Hood. Which is, and I quote:

“From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!”

Perrault can go jump in a lake.


Pinocchio manages to escape the donkey fate by jumping off a cliff. Jumping off a cliff may have metaphorical significance, I guess, but to me it doesn’t signify Pinocchio learning his lesson about trusting anthropomorphic foxes or wanting to live a carefree life filled with smoking, drinking, playing pool (the… horror… or maybe that was the joke, I’m honestly not sure), property destruction, and no school. He just realizes he’s been had and his conscience, rather than making him feel bad about the decisions he’s made that have led him to this moment, just points him to the exit. This is an interesting way to write a moral, I suppose, in that there isn’t one at all. But then Pinocchio needs to be willing to and actually die to save Geppetto before the Blue Fairy grants him “real boy” status, proving that he’s better than all of those other boys and is truly deserving of life.

Compare this to Trolls: first of all, in Pinocchio’s shoes Poppy would certainly have gone back to save all the other kids, since she is willing to do so for all of the Bergens, even the ones she doesn’t know personally. Not that I’m suggesting that Pinocchio was capable of that, but man, tell the polizia. Or the fairy. Or something.

Now if we were to apply the Rule of Riding Hood to Trolls, then Branch would have to be the main character. The fact that he warned Poppy about the loud party would be even more highlighted than it was. She’d have to learn some sort of painful lesson and become a completely different character. He probably would come up with that plan I mentioned earlier in which the Trolls all give up happiness so that they can’t be exploited. Don’t talk to strangers if you don’t want them to “eat” you, after all. If you have something someone wants to exploit, best get rid of it.


Happily we don’t live in the world in which the movie takes Branch’s extreme side. Instead, there’s a couple of instances where “I guess we were both right” is the lesson they learn. And when Poppy does revert to Branch’s early-on-in-the-movie way of looking at the world, Branch is the one to convince her not to give hope. The Trolls don’t escape exploitation by jumping off the exit cliff, but rather by learning things, and by their extreme, all-encompassing empathy.

And the Blue Fairy really can suck it. So Pinocchio decided to skip school twice. BFD. Can’t she pick on Stromboli or that creep luring kids to “Pleasure Island” and then turning them into donkeys and selling them into slavery for her moralistic lectures about lying I MEAN GET SOME PERSPECTIVE LADY.

The Lego Movie

Lord Business is rounding up master builders and trapping them in his think tank so that they’ll come up with the brilliant instructions for all of the settings in his various realms. He’s doing this because the bizarre creations of master builders and world-mixing were confusing him. He wants his stuff to be exactly. The way. He wants it.


Now really he’s just The Man Upstairs, Finn’s dad. And he wants to build all of his Lego sets as they are in the instructions and then glue them down so that his kids can’t move them around. Lord Business’s think tank full of such geniuses as Gandalf, Wonder Woman, Shaquille O’Neal, and Cleopatra is just Finn’s active imagination’s version of events.

The exploitation of the think tank happens because Lord Business is stubborn about how the world has to be. There aren’t infinite possibilities in his mind. Everyone needs to stand still in their own realms and stay frozen forever. Finn’s dad has decided that his Lego isn’t a toy because he’s building and gluing and now it’s become a grown-up thing. But when he sees some of Finn’s creations, he changes his mind about the crazy glue and plays with his son, building strange creations and letting Lego guys and girls who wouldn’t normally interact interact. Eventually, even his daughter is allowed to join.

Dun dun duuuuuuun.

The Lego Movie reminds me of Trolls in that all of the bad stuff happens because everyone (in Trolls) or just the one guy in charge of everything (in The Lego Movie) is working under the assumption that there is only one way to do something. For the Bergens, it’s eating Trolls to achieve happiness. For dad/Lord Business, it’s gluing everyone down so that nothing moves and gets weird. But the innocence and resilience of Poppy and Finn/Emmett convince everyone to try a less exploitative, less gluey approach, and it works out better for everyone.

Welp. That was certainly a way to spend two days.



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