There are a lot of ways movies can be “trippy,” a word we apply liberally to any experience that replicates the effects of a mind-expanding substance. A dream within a dream within a dream? That’s trippy. The story of one man’s life interrupted by the complete history of the universe? Trippy. Minions? Trippy.
The word has lost some of its meaning. So with that in mind, we say that two of the trippiest mainstream movies of the past decade just arrived hand-in-hand. Doctor Strange is weird, as you might expect from anything that deals with magic and multiple dimensions. Trolls, on the other hand, is a children’s movie, but every bit as out-there.
In fact, we couldn’t tell which movie was more surprising, disturbing, and (of course) trippy. So we ranked what stood out to us. Here, this may help.
Best hallucinatory sequence
Kwame: I’m taking this superlative to mean the moments that make you wonder, “What the hell did I just see?” while offering up no concrete answers. They seem to exist independent of narrative, sense, and even taste.
With that in mind, Doctor Strange doesn’t have a whole lot in it that I would describe as “hallucinatory.” There’s plenty of weird, wild stuff going on, especially in the latter half of the film. But everything is grounded in what’s already been established. Sorcerers can bend reality because of this clear-cut, if extremely esoteric reason. I suppose there is one hallucinatory moment, when Strange is given mystical sight. He’s sent flying through a random and infinite multiverse where he flies through his own face, gets deconstructed, and then reconstructed all over again. That’s trippy out of context, but it’s one moment in a movie that does its best to make sense of the crazy things it presents. So trippy, in Strange’s world, is normal.
Trolls, on the other hand, is so completely all over the place, with characters doing things just because, that I was more often than not left wondering, “Wait. Did that just happen?” I mean, there’s a character who poops cupcakes. Why? No idea! And then said cupcakes are offered up as a tasty treat! Poo-cakes aren’t tasty!
My mind is blown all over again just thinking about it.
Megan: So I think of this in more of a sense of: If I were hallucinating, what would I see? What would I want to see? Under that specific criteria, Trolls is very frightening. I know it’s all cute with its felt-design sequences and bright colors and singing and stuff, but there is some dark stuff happening here.
Consider the movie’s troll-eating bad guys, the Bergen. Some scenes involving them are visualized in a really cute way, but what’s happening is actually horrific. We’re talking Attack on Titan-level implications. Can you imagine being locked up, waiting to be feasted on by some gigantic being who’s about to gobble you up like tasty people-jerky? Would the Bergen be merciful and chomp off your head first, like my seven-year-old self eating a chocolate bunny on Easter, or would it take slow, lingering bites, like my 27-year-old self getting down on a pork bun? Now I’m hungry and I hate everything about this.
Doctor Strange, meanwhile, is more of the “whoa man” kind of hallucination I dream of. “Let’s shoot around the universe and look at our hands for five hours.” College kids pay a lot of money for that.
Best rave anthem
Kwame: Seeing as Trolls is actually a musical, the answer to this question is pretty easy. No, it’s not Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” though that’s obviously up there. It’s “Hair Up,” also by Justin Timberlake, but only nominally so. I say that because this is a trap remix of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” with JT shouting “Flip it!”
Confusion at what you’re hearing quickly gives way to confusion at your sudden need to turn up.
Michael Giacchino’s sitar-heavy score for Doctor Strange wasn’t made for raves, but for meditation sessions or sitting on a beanbag while talking about how love is the glue that binds the universe. Which certainly is its own kind of trippy, but not something you wave glowsticks at.
Megan: Okay, yes, we’ve absolutely set Doctor Strange up to fail in this specific category. I’m sorry Mr. — I mean, Dr. — Strange. The next option will be better.
I don’t know if I could pin down one specific rave anthem, in so much as there is actually a rave scene in Trolls, and it’s, like, three different songs. Can the entire party be my rave-anthem vote? It succeeds at being kid-friendly bacchanalia (only hugs and glitter-farts here, my children), but dang, dude, trolls party hard. It’s non-stop hair-flipping and mashup-singing, with enough party lighting to start its own Pinterest board.
Kwame: Like, with the troll who gets blasted in the face with glitter and shouts “YOLO”?
Megan: Movies are so good at understanding how soon-to-be-teens feel these days!
Best out-of-body experience
Kwame: I’m going to give this one to Doctor Strange. Not just because it actually features astral projection on multiple occasions, though that’s important. It’s because watching it happen again and again made me wonder what my astral form is like, and what it’d get up to if it were freed from my body.
When the Ancient One sends Stephen Strange careening through the multiverse, I thought about Steve Ditko, the man who created the character. He clearly had incredibly psychedelic thoughts about reality, and he himself might have thought other dimensions roil and twist around us at all times. And thinking about what that could mean for me, a human being living in the real world, well, it freaked me out a little.
Megan: Yeah, buddy, I’m with you. The movie has multiple and literal out-of-body experiences, so I find it hard to not award my dude D. Strange this one.
I do believe, however, that there was a moment in Trolls when my spirit floated outside of my body to quietly observe us, the only two childless adults in the theater. I chalk that one up more to painful self-awareness than enlightenment. Happens to me all the time on bad dates.
Kwame: This one has to go to Dormammu, the Eater of Souls. In Doctor Strange, we learn that he’s the lord of the Dark Dimension, a plane of reality that’s completely timeless and is made of suffering. Dormammu himself is a god-like entity whose face is a massive rippling horror the size of a planet. All of this is the stuff of nightmares, the kind that make you crumple into a ball beneath the covers. You finally coax yourself from bed long enough to go cry in the shower.
Megan: Oh I just can’t with Dormammu, who looks like a bad iTunes visualizer and whose name makes everyone who says it aloud sound as if they just had their wisdom teeth removed. Without getting into spoilers (I mean, we know Doctor Strange had to win), can I just say that the way he does it seems… anticlimactic?
Dormammu is a big gooey baby who has it pretty easy, all things considered. I’m not impressed. I’d throw my vote at Mads Mikkelsen’s evil eyeshadow first, which is fire. Hey, can we get a photo in here of Mads?
There it is.
You know what I do find kind of awe-inspiring? The Trolls troll who farts glitter. He’s the only troll we see do this for the entire movie, which implies it is some sort of special skill. So does he ingest glitter? Does his body naturally produce it, like some sort of fabulous Spider-Man? I’m fascinated by this skill, and also can’t stop thinking about whether a human could do this. It’s sort of beautiful while also being really gross, and also what I imagine it’s like to be mid-2000s-era Ke$ha.
Kwame: I’m horrified by all of this. If you really think about it, the trolls live in a bright and happy yet deeply disturbing world. There’s the constant risk of being eaten, of course. But you have Glitter Troll, who probably stinks glitter into a jar and provides it to his troll friends. And then there’s that bizarre four-legged troll in the rasta hat. He’s the one who poops cupcakes. Is this where desserts come from in Troll World? Is no one worried about food-borne illnesses? What kind of cupcakes do the other trolls poop? Is there a red-velvet-cupcake-pooping troll? Is Magnolia’s just a troll named Magnolia?
Oh god. Trolls is too much to even think about. Dormammu has nothing on these things.
Megan: I don’t know what you’re so upset about, man. I wish my friends pooped cupcakes.