Created by Guillermo del Toro and based on the book he wrote with Daniel Kraus of the same name, Trollhunters approximates the tropes associated with the director’s American films (particularly the Hellboy series), blending them with the anonymous tics of generic fantasy. The series follows Jim (Anton Yelchin, in his last role), your prototypical suburban boy with his head in the clouds, as he discovers that he has a hero’s destiny. Jim is chosen by a magical amulet to be the next Trollhunter, which, somewhat oddly given the title, means that he protects benign trolls from evil ones such as Bular (Ron Perlman), who wishes to open the usual gateway to another dimension, flooding our world with darkness and monsters.
Jim is an assembly of Spielberg-ian clichés, as he’s a brown-haired sensitive soul who lost his father for mysterious reasons, who feels a close kinship with his mother (Lexi Medrano), and who yearns for a world bigger than his small-town high school, with its boring classes and caste systems. Yelchin’s searching voice lends this stock role an unusually convincing texture, with its unforced and lived-in vulnerability, and Perlman’s evil troll, though distractingly derivative of a creature from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, exudes a characteristically Perlman-ly panache, suggesting a working-class colossus who’s had it up to the top of his horns with the meddling earnestness of his human nemesis. Kelsey Grammer also likeably spouts exposition as Blinky, a troll who sports Frasier Crane’s hair.
Trollhunters seeks to mine a new audience for del Toro’s aesthetic, edging into the market of children who watch Saturday morning cartoons, and so compromises have been made that may not please those who prefer their del Toro productions messier and more obsessive. Though certain flourishes commonly associated with the director’s films pop up in Trollhunters, such as a preoccupation with the winding gears of ancient clocks, there’s little to distinguish this show’s aesthetic from that of any other American children’s cartoon. The CGI animation of the humans is blocky and forgettable, and though a few of the monsters are eye-tickling, with giant heads that suggest Easter Island statues, many of them blend into the woodwork as collections of teeth, tentacles, and other swirling appendages. Colors in the nighttime scenes have the overheated palette of del Toro’s horror films, with lurid yellows, reds, and blues, but there are no truly indelible images.
There’s no sense that Trollhunters had to exist so as to sate del Toro’s restless imagination, as there is in most of his films. The series goes down easily, with one-liners alternating professionally with well-designed battle scenes, and this obliging impersonality is why it’s ultimately so dull, as zippy, attention-grabbing movement is prized over mood and poetry.