Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia is one of the hidden gems of Netflix’s original programming. Tucked amongst other Netflix animated series, most of them spinoffs of Dreamworks films (Boss Baby: Back in Business, Dragons: Race to the Edge), the Trollhunters is a bubbly 3D adventure with an important caveat: it bears the fantastic touch of its creator, Guillermo del Toro.
And while the show is ultimately geared towards children, unlike the majority of del Toro’s other work (I watched Pan’s Labyrinth as a child and didn’t watch it again for over ten years because I was petrified), fans of fantasy will be greatly rewarded in bingeing all 52 episodes of the series, which concluded this week. With Tales of Arcadia, the plan is for del Toro to finally get a trilogy of his own.
The story of Trollhunters
Trollhunters is set in Arcadia Oaks, a suburban paradise in every respect except for the fact that it seems to be a magnet for the disastrous supernatural. Trollhunters focuses on the trolls that live beneath the surface of the town out of necessity (if they step in the sunlight, they turn into stone and instantly die). One individual, known as the Trollhunter and bestowed with armor and power by way of a magic amulet of Merlin’s creation, protects Troll Market from any and all threats, particularly those posed by Gunmar, an evil troll warlord banished to a realm called to the Darklands.
Enter Jim (Emile Hirsch, who took on the character after Anton Yelchin passed away in 2016), your typical boy-next-door who just happens to be chosen by the amulet when he bikes by it on his way to school. Jim is the first human Trollhunter ever, which tends to complicate things a bit. Aided by his best friends Toby (Charlie Saxton) and Claire (Lexi Medrano) and his mentors Blinky (Kelsey Grammer) and AAARRRGGHH!!! (Fred Tatasciore), Jim works to adjust to his new role while protecting both his world and the one beneath his feet.
The first season’s structure is familiar: boy with supernatural powers has to balance a double life as a student and a hero, try to get the girl, maintain his relationship with his mother, and prom’s tomorrow! Trollhunters eventually moves past this well-established trope and pushes Jim towards decisions that pull him further and further away from his human life. Exploring the very real strain that this puts on his relationships and future, the series doesn’t shy away from outcomes in which everything isn’t fine. There’s a sense of permanence and consequence — without giving any spoilers, Jim is a thoroughly imperfect protagonist who is out of his depth and makes decisions that have serious ramifications.
Above all, however, Trollhunters is a series with a whole lot of heart. From Blinky acting as Jim’s surrogate father to Toby and AAARRRGGHH!!!’s “wingmen” relationship to Claire’s willingness to sacrifice everything for those who she loves, there’s no shortage of genuine love in the series. Friendship remains at its heart even as the tone turns darker in later episodes. During one particularly poignant recap sequence in the third season, I found myself unexpectedly crying: I love these characters so much, and they love each other so much.
There’s more where Trollhunters came from...
There are two further installments left in the Tales of Arcadia trilogy that will expand on the mythos surrounding Arcadia Oaks. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly last November, Guillermo del Toro stated that the overarching goal of the trilogy was “to create three interconnecting series that shared a mythology” and revealed that the inspiration for it came from his childhood:
When I was kid growing up in a small city in Mexico, I thought everything was going to happen there. When I was in seventh grade, we went into the sewers with flashlights and crossed the whole city. I don’t recommend it! But we crossed the city from beneath, and that’s where Trollhunters come from.
Regarding the inspiration for 3 Below, the second installment of the series, del Toro said:
And for whatever reason, at age 15, I saw a UFO. I have a strange life.
3 Below is focused on a pair of royal, alien siblings, Aja (Tatiana Maslany) and Krel (Diego Luna) who crash land in Arcadia Oaks while hiding the dictator that’s taken over their planet. Pursued by intergalactic bounty hunters, Aja and Krel’s ship disguises them and their butler so that they can blend in. “The mothership says, ‘I will give you the shape of people who are invisible, that nobody looks at,’” del Toro told Entertainment Weekly. “So she turns the prince into a Latino boy, the bodyguard into an elderly man, and the princess into a girl.” Furthermore, according to Trollhunters executive producer Marc Guggenheim in a recent interview with Collider, we’re in for a treat: he called 3 Below “wackier and much more unconventional” and “even more visually impressive” than Trollhunters.
We actually got an introduction to Aja and Krel, who are thought to be tech-savvy “foreign exchange students,” near the end of Trollhunters when Jim is asked to show them around town. Steve (Steven Yeun) and Eli (Cole Sand), supporting characters from Trollhunters, are also confirmed to appear in 3 Below in a more major role — you can get a glimpse of Eli pursuing the truth in the following teaser.
Regarding Wizards, the third installment of the trilogy? Not as much information has been released, but what we do know is that it will feature a convergence of the trolls, aliens, and wizards that have been drawn to Arcadia Oaks in order to fight an apocalyptic battle that threatens all of their worlds and the future of magic itself. It’s not clear yet in what capacity, if any, we’ll get to see Jim, Claire, Toby, and other characters from Trollhunters appear in Wizards. However, with the quality precedent that Trollhunters has set, I have faith that both 3 Below and Wizards are going to live up to, if not surpass, what we’ve seen of Arcadia Oaks thus far.