I was introduced to Trollhunters by a friend of mine who has a terrible habit of overselling shows that he likes and really wants other people to watch just so he has someone to talk with them about. Naturally this put me in a less than receptive mood when I first started watching as most people would be when they’ve had their arm twisted in such a manner. So now that I’m doing an article about this show, you can probably guess how my opinion of the show changed from that first viewing. Now I shall attempt to entice you into watching – and hopefully not take it to far as my friend did – so join me as I get Animated About… Trollhunters.
At a glance the trailer that plays on Netflix is rather unimpressive and serves only to reinforce my first impression that this was going to be yet another crappy made for television 3D animated kids show with all the usual failing and general rubbishness when it came to production values, plot and storytelling (the places these sorts of shows normally fail). Once I actually started the first episode however, the majority of these doubts were blown away almost instantly.
Let’s start with the look of the show, a very important first element especially with animated shows. There was a little thing I missed on the poster that is a very big factor in how good this show looks and feel, the name ‘Dreamworks’. Trollhunters began life planned as a live action television series, but once that was put aside due to the prohibitive cost of such a venture it was turned into a book. Dreamworks picked up the production rights and initially wanted to adapt it into a full length animated movie before eventually deciding on a TV series instead (kind of came full circle there huh?). And boy did they make a bang up job of it! Twenty six episodes were produced for the first series and they are all of the quality we have come to expect from a Dreamworks feature production. If you want a good example of the animation quality think of how good How to Train Your Dragon looked and apply that level of skill to this show. The standard walking and talking scenes are just beautiful to look and and once a fight scene breaks out (as they often do in this show) the animation takes another step up into the fantastic region.
Now for the storytelling. Something else of importance I missed with my first cursory glance at this show was the name of the creator. The initial idea and the the book that came of it which was adapted into the show all came from the mind of legendary film maker Guillermo del Toro. If the name doesn’t ring a bell maybe you’ll be familiar with some of his work; in film we have titles such as Mimic, Hellboy 1 & 2, Pan’s Labyrinth and possibly his biggest box-office success Pacific Rim. He has also recently begun collaborations in the video game field too with P.T. and its cancelled sequel Silent Hills being his currently published work and Death Stranding, the new game by Hideo Kojima, the next one in production.
With story and look covered what is the plot of Trollhunters? We visit the fictional American small town of Arcadia where our protagonist James “Jim” Lake Jr lives with his mother. Jim is in high school in Arcadia and half of the plot of the show revolves around him trying to maintain his school career and friends and (possibly) love life. The other half of the show takes place in the town underneath Arcadia, Heartstone Trollmarket. It is here Jim is introduced to the hidden world of the Trolls when he finds an ancient amulet that grants him the power of The Trollhunter. This mantle comes with the responsibility of protecting the Troll race from dangers such as gnomes, goblins and other such mythical creatures but the main purpose of the Trollhunter is to protect against evil Trolls, called Gumm-Gumms. Jim is the first ever human Trollhunter and as such faces some heavy bigotry from the Trolls he is meant to protect, however despite their hatred and the very real threats to his life Jim is unable to give up the mantle as once the amulet has chosen a champion it is his until death and cannot be cast aside.
Someone asked me if this show is aimed at children or adults and now having watched it I honestly can’t tell. The majority of the problems Jim faces in his school life are admittedly very childhood related problems and will obviously identify with a younger audience but the themes the show deals with on an almost episode to episode basis are honestly quite dark. Death and dismemberment are covered several times, child endangerment and long term kidnapping, broken homes and the loss of parents and loved ones are things some shows would maybe use as plot hooks for a single episode and then wrap up and put away. Instead, Trollhunters use them as long term story arcs.
A final word should really be spared for the cast that bring these characters to life. The big names associated with the show have clearly brought some top level actors on board; Kelsey Grammer, Ron Perlman and Steven Yeun all play long-term characters in the show and Tom Hiddleston provides a guest voice in an episode before being replaced by James Purefoy. Sadly however the voice of Jim was given to Anton Yelchin, most notably known for playing Pavel Chekov in the reboot Star Trek movies, who tragically died shortly after recording the majority of his dialogue and as such this show stands as one of the last pieces of his work.
With such a talented combination of creator, studio and talent, it’s honestly little surprise that the show is as good as it is. Dreamworks cartoon-style animations coupled with Del Toro’s almost obsession level love of fairy tale myths and legends come together perfectly to bring the world of Trollhunters to life and provides it with an almost otherworldly sense of realism through its aesthetic. Take the time to watch Trollhunters and I promise you won’t regret it.