Walt Dohrn can pinpoint the moment he fell in love with animation. "I was in fourth grade," he recalls. "That's when my life changed." Growing up in Ojai, California, the only movie theater in town was a revival house, where Dohrn would spend the weekends watching old Disney movies.
"Right next to our one movie theater was our one library, so after, I would just walk over to the library and they had some animation books. I fell in love with that peek behind the scenes. Like, 'Oh, there's the Nine Old Men. They drew the movies,'" he reminisces. "I was dedicated from fourth grade on. It's all I did."
Dohrn is perhaps best known as the director behind the Trolls movies, having co-directed the Oscar-nominated 2016 original before taking the reins on 2020's Trolls World Tour and now, Trolls Band Together. (He is also an occasional voice actor, and within the Trolls universe, has lent his voice to the likes of Cloud Guy, Mr. Dinkles, and The Interdimensional Hustler Traveler.)
"There's no real limitations on Trolls. There's no limit to what characters we can come up with. There's an infinite amount of music that we can make or draw from. It's a playground, and a place that can go almost anywhere," Dohrn says of the franchise's limitless potential for creativity. Like the movies he loves most, on each Trolls film, he sets out to defy genre and instead to "take all these genres and blend them into something new — a total experience."
Below, he shares with A.frame his Top 5, including the cult classic midnight movie that he holds up as an unexpected aspiration for Queen Poppy.
Directed by: George Dunning | Written by: Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, and Erich Segal
Yellow Submarine is a big one. I have to acknowledge, it's not the greatest narrative, but it's a movie I saw very early on. I must have been like six or seven, and that's one of my earliest memories; just the wash of colors and The Beatles' music — the greatest music of all time — and the psychedelic, anything-could-happen vibe to it. It was scary, and then it was playful, and then it was funny. I just love that movie. I share it with my kids. In fact, in the pandemic there was a Yellow Submarine watch party, which was fantastic. Everybody was watching it together all over the world. There is no end to the inspiration of that film.
Directed by: James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe Jr., Norman Ferguson, David Hand, Jim Handley, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Ben Sharpsteen | Written by: Joe Grant and Dick Huemer
You'll see a theme here with music, and movement, and animation, and psychedelia. In a unique way that can only happen with animation, Fantasia was one of those early, early ones where they blended animation and music and there's some wild, beautiful, psychedelic, surprising artful things happening. I've probably seen that movie more than any other movie. I put it on all the time. It's so ahead of its time.
Directed by: Mel Stuart | Written by: Roald Dahl and David Seltzer
I get so excited whenever someone mentions that movies, because I don't think people realize how incredible it is. Again, it's a great blend of music, psychedelia, and surprises. That movie really defies genre. It could be a musical, it could be like a family movie, but it's got some real moments of horror that you wouldn't expect. I love the costume design, and the performance from Gene Wilder is always an inspiration to me. You never know where that guy stands. Is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? He's so unnerving and so warm at the same time. Oh man, I love that movie.
I gave a little, tiny lecture at the studio about Willy Wonka. Dreamworks asked me to give a lecture on the movies that inspired me, and of course, I'll talk about Willy Wonka forever. I really broke that one down. Every shot is so wild and weird.
Directed by: Jim Sharman | Written by: Richard O'Brien and Jim Sharman
Growing up, my older sister had to take care of me, and her and her friends were watching Rocky Horror. I wasn't supposed to but I snuck in and watched that movie, and it's just incredible. I, of course, love musicals, but surprising ones, not the traditional ones. I love the blend of horror and comedy and musicals all in one. It's so surprising, so weird, and Tim Curry's performance is one of the finest performances in any movie. It's very much like Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka. I adore that one. I watch it every Halloween, and I think I watched it four times last October.
Something special about a lot of these movies is that they are very much midnight movies, which I adore. That performance art piece of it. And you can't really make a midnight movie. It just has to become one. I hope in my heart of hearts, my dreams, someday the Trolls films will be a midnight movie that you have to start at midnight and you'll watch them all the way to six in the morning.
Written and Directed by: Steven Spielberg
I had to put a Spielberg one in here, because watching Steven Spielberg is such a part of growing up. And Close Encounters is such a beautiful one, where you take this incredible sci-fi landscape and this incredible score, but you blend it with a real, personal story. Plus, the whole thing is so cinematic.
Like with animation, when I started watching those movies, I saw the art of cinema and how you can blend all these pieces together. God, that one is so good. It's the color palette, the way they shot the film, and again, a great performance with Richard Dreyfuss in the center of it. He's not your regular protagonist. He's not very heroic. Neither are any of the characters in the films I mentioned. All these movies get me so excited.