Four episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
Guillermo del Toro’s kaleidoscopic imagination is on full display in Trollhunters, a rich gift of an animated series arriving on Netflix later this month. It’s in the depiction of trolls as hulking and metamorphic (yet predictably endearing) creatures, birthed seemingly from the earth itself, shoulders erupting in sprouts of grass or smoothly carved from dark obsidian. It’s in the visualization of said trolls’ subterranean world, a crystalline treasure-trove kingdom that draws upon every vivid shade the animators’ palettes had available (and likely created a few). And yet del Toro’s approach and ideology are most evident not just in those striking optical executions but also in the sense of astonishment and joy with which the series itself regards them.
Trollhunters is rightly a thing of youthful wonderment, a show that’s enamored of its own candy-colored vision and fully expects the family crowd it’s targeting will share the sentiment. And del Toro has the goods to back up such confidence, delivering an ebullient and deeply satisfying piece of kid-friendly fantasy that draws upon Nordic mythology, Arthurian lore, and Amblin-hued storytelling in winning fashion. In the late Anton Yelchin, who voices protagonist Jim Lake with earnest awe and increasing gallantry, del Toro has also found (and, in a painful reality beyond the confines of this fantastical show, lost) his perfect creative partner.
Yelchin’s voice, you see, is the kind of addition that makes a series like Trollhunters truly sing. Warm, friendly, shamelessly sensitive, and imbued with deep feeling, it elevates Jim into a memorable, likeable character almost instantly. It helps that del Toro and company have written Jim as a classic Yelchin character – a good-natured, out-of-his depth teen trying to balance high school life with the unexpected call of duty.
As the series opens, Jim stumbles across a glittering amulet, the possession of which unexpectedly secures him the title of Trollhunter, the legendary defender of sentient trolls who’ve long lived in secret beneath his hometown. A rude awakening soon follows in which Jim is accosted by initially terrifying trolls, only to eventually warm up to the jarring, yet conversational creatures. The immediate upside: activating his amulet via an incantation also results in an Iron Man-like suit of armor forming around him, complete with a mighty sword.
Faced with both a new destiny and a fearsome foe in the evil Bular (Ron Perlman), a fiendish troll whose master plan involves the annihilation of Trollhunters, the 15-year-old is left with little choice but to train as a warrior under the guidance of two kindly trolls, including the warm, knowledgeable Blinky (Kelsey Grammer). The transition, complicated by Jim’s status as the first human Trollhunter (traditionally, the role is kept among troll-kind, and Jim being “selected” by the amulet sets off an uproar in the magical community), is far from smooth – but with Bular on the prowl for the amulet, time isn’t exactly on the would-be hero’s side.
All of this is fairly standard YA fantasy stuff, but Yelchin’s talents take it to a new level, establishing Jim as an atypically brave, selfless, and genuinely likeable lead for a family-targeted animated series. Perlman, meanwhile, brings thundering bombast to voicing the villain of the piece, a towering and deadly adversary who’s more than a match for the most battle-ready troll – let alone the comparatively minuscule Jim. Grammer, reliably excellent, pays his wise mentor schtick to a tee, while Charlie Saxton’s Toby, Jim’s flustered and cavity-prone best friend, proves a comedic standout. Also of note: Lexi Madrano, whose love interest Claire showcases surprising depth, and Amy Landecker, who’s pitch-perfect as Jim’s harangued but kindly mother.
The animation itself is another significant boon – it’s easy to find feeling and personality reflected in the craggy, outlandish visages of these creatures, and even more effortless to be enraptured by the thrilling, fluid action sequences during which they’re on full display. An opening battle weaving in and out of a bridge’s metal underbelly is an opening-episode heartstopper, but each installment puts a premium on intense, intricate battles, meaning that Trollhunters has more to offer action-fantasy fans than initial appearances might suggest.
It all builds to a visually and narratively thrilling finale that, with stakes that feel sky-high, reflects just how excellent the series is, right out of the gate and throughout its length, at investing viewers in its world. That it leaves some threads dangling in its final outing feels like less of a ploy for renewal and more of a creative statement – with a universe as imaginative and expansive as this one, there will always be quests on which to embark, evildoers to vanquish.
Without Yelchin’s presence, season 2 of Trollhunters will be a different, distinctly melancholy product; it’s hard to imagine del Toro would lay his protagonist to rest, and besides that the fun-loving, rip-roaring spirit of the series seems as fitting a tribute to the actor’s career as any. But this first season is a marvelous introduction, and one that marks the arrival of what could very well become a favorite of the kids-fantasy crowd.
Beautifully animated and brought to sparkling life by an ebullient voice cast (led by the late, lamented Anton Yelchin), Trollhunters is an always engaging and often wildly entertaining addition to the kids fantasy genre.