Enter the Sewers with Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Trollhunters’

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One of things I was most excited about at this past weekend’s New York Comic-Con was the premiere of Trollhunters, the new animated series coming to Netflix from Dreamworks Animation and Guillermo del Toro. The show, the first season of which is set to premiere on December 23, centers on teenager Jim Lake as he stumbles upon a mystical amulet and inadvertently discovers an extraordinary secret civilization of mighty trolls beneath his small town of Arcadia.

The show is an original creation “from the mind of” del Toro, which is a bit of a departure for Dreamworks. The studio already has several shows on Netflix, but almost all of them are spinoffs of their feature films. Only two (Veggie Tales and DinoTrux) aren’t based on an existing film, but they’re still part of an existing franchise.

Trollhunters is wholly original, but – if we’re being honest – someone at Dreamworks probably didn’t connect the dots between projects and release dates. The show faces a potential problem straight out of the gate as many people might confuse the show with Trolls, the feature animated film coming from the same studio in November. The two are decidedly… dissimilar.

At the NYCC panel, which took place on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, del Toro introduced the first two episodes of the series, which together form the pilot (“because I couldn’t stop”). Following that, he was joined on stage by voice talent Kelsey Grammer (who plays the helpful guide troll Blinky), Ron Perlman (the ginormous evil troll Bular), Steven Yuen (the school bully), and Charlie Saxton (best friend and sidekick Toby). Also on stage were executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Rodrigo Blaas. (The role of Jim Lake was voiced by the late Anton Yelchin.)

Trollhunters was originally inspired, per del Toro, by his experiences exploring the sewers when he was a kid. Why am I not surprised? As the show opens, we watch an incredibly capable warrior troll (a trollhunter, sworn to protect the secret underground world of the trolls) get defeated by a particularly nasty troll bent on his destruction. All trolls (both good and bad) lurk in the shadows and darkness and – like vampires – are burned by sunlight.

The trollhunter sacrifices himself to protect his powerful amulet from falling into the claws of the creature chasing him. That amulet – the sigil of the trollhunters – soon calls to and finds a new home with Jim Lake: the first human to take up the mantle of a trollhunter.

I’m not going to lie. The first two episodes, which mostly introduce the main characters and set up the entire mythology, rely a bit too heavily on tired tropes and cliches. There’s the reluctant hero, the fat friend as comedic sidekick (who was specifically designed to be del Toro as a child), the “exotic” love interest, the bully named Steve, and the stuffy teacher who turns out to be an arch-nemesis.

But this is Guillermo del Toro, so I remain incredibly optimistic. The character design behind the trolls is phenomenal, and the animation is breathtaking. Del Toro brought over many of the same people who worked on (the underappreciated) Rise of the Guardians and called Trollhunters “a labor of love.”

Del Toro also said that working on Trollhunters was, creatively, one of the best experiences he’s ever had. And coming from the guy who made Cronos, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, and The Strain? That’s saying a lot. He also claims that the characters in the show will also go to a very different place, thematically, and face some morally difficult choices. And? The show has an epic scale that will be revealed throughout the first season.

Surprise Easter Eggs in the first two episodes include Tom Hiddleston as the previous trollhunter, a cameo appearance by Toothless (the Night Fury), and del Toro voicing Toby’s dentist (who is “a retired Mexican wrestler with incredibly hair arms”). Del Toro also teased that the first season is filled to the brim with geeky guest appearances and surprises (as if the cast on stage wasn’t geeky enough).

I’m definitely on board with this one. Kelsey Grammer and Ron Perlman absolutely dominate every scene they’re in (and they’re in a lot), and I’m intrigued to see where the season will go.

As for the highlight of the panel? Toward the end, Ron Perlman pretended to become overcome with emotion and walked off stage. Two minutes later, he returned with a birthday cake for del Toro who would turn 52 the following day. Perlman led 6,000 fans in a chorus of “Happy Birthday” and then literally mic dropped the panel. Epic.

All photos courtesy of Dreamworks Animation

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