By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Netflix has a hit with DreamWorks Trollhunters. I binge-watched this entire action-adventure heroic fantasy in one sitting over the holiday weekend and once done, I was craving more. After a good rest, I watched it again. This time, I looked for the details.
There’s a lot of lore to appreciate in the world that Guillermo del Toro and the Hageman Brothers (Dan & Kevin) put together. This producer’s approach in handling the dark fantasy is easily apparent and the series writers crafted a broader story (from the book of the same name) which I found familiar and fun. They crafted a dynamic narrative that’s on par with the storytelling and character development I enjoyed from Transformers Prime.
In this world, these trolls have been around for millenniums and the amulet that grants the wielder a magical suit of armour was made by King Arthur’s Merlin. This realm is occupied by changelings, golems and gnomes. More creatures from fairy tradition will no doubt be coming because the dwarves are suspiciously missing. I love to see a crossover with Disney’s Gargoyles but sadly, I know that will never happen. The fact these creatures avoid the sun is quickly explained in the opening act.
In modern day, the humans are unaware of this troll universe. A bridge divides the two realms and access can only be granted through a special crystal. The peace was good until Gunmar the Black thought the divide prevented good eating (destroying man) to be found. Although the war was waged with none of the human world the wiser, his presence has been a bane in troll history. Not every underground denizen felt the same way as this dark warrior.
Perhaps by accident. Jim Lake Jr. (beautifully played by Anton Yelchin) learns certain destinies are meant to be. He craves adventure and, through no fault of his own, finds an amulet which will grant him that. Along with his best bud, Toby (Charlie Saxton), they have to learn about the world they are to protect first. At the same time, they still have to attend school and deal with those everyday situations most pre-teens go through — including facing bullies and interacting with the fairer sex. There are times Jim’s life mirrors Peter Parker’s in the classic Spider-Man sense — he is that awkward teen still going to high school by day and trying to be a superhero by night.
Another instance includes (from Transformers Prime) Jack never quite telling his mum about him always hanging out with giant robots; Jim has hidden the fact for as long as he can until circumstances require him revealing the truth. However, when the school principal takes an interest in the boy’s mom, life gets tough. While the reuse of familiar tropes for those “high school stories” are a bane to some, I find there is no escaping them. I enjoy the product so long as they are integrated perfectly to move the story forward.
In How to Train Your Dragon, the trio of Hiccup, Astrid and Fishlegs make up the brains of the operation and their counterparts in Trollhunters is very apparent. Toby is the big boned member of the group who wants to be the right-hand man — I find he’s very much like Fishlegs in HTTYD — and Claire (Lexi Medrano) shows how well she can hold her own (she sports one mean punch much like Astrid). To round out the team, two trolls Blinky (excellently played by Kelsey Grammer) and Aaarrrgghh (Fred Tatasciore) offer some humour, but the small gnomes that we commonly see on lawns provide the best laughs as fodder and food for the big ones. Their attitudes as unwitting slaves make them hilarious every time they grace the screen. Although very threatening in “Gnome Your Enemy,” they become very cuddly in later episodes, especially when one of them takes a shining to living in a doll house.
With this animation being a del Toro film, Hellboy sort of appears. I will not say how, but the look of a certain stone-fisted hand was very apparent.
The threats become even more diabolical as Angor Rot, introduced in the episode, “Return of the Trollhunter,” looks a bit like a preserved mummy from a South American tomb than from Cambodian lore. He is an assassin by trade, and I hate to think of what he was like when human. These allies working to help bring Gunmar back are just icing on the cake, and the show is not over. Just how the series will continue depends on how fast Netflix wants to pump out product.
Replacing Yelchin was not easy, and the team did a great job in finding a talent who can continue the enthusiasm of the character with equal vigour. Most of the lines were recorded by Yelchin, and this program truly honours his actor’s legacy. The first episodes were dedicated to a young man who’s life was sadly cut short and he will be missed.
After watching this series, I’m curious in looking at the original material to discover the differences. I’m aware a lot of changes were made, and I may need it to tide me over until the next season gets put online. Netflix is not in con-troll of every single production detail, like as for when the animation will get made, but I’m hoping series two will be available mid-2017. I love this world of high fantasy. The characters are people I can relate to, and I’m hoping the order to get the next season made occurs sooner than later. The cliffhanger is a doozy, and very rarely do I get excited for wanting more.
4½ Lawn Gnomes out of 5