Paul Asay

TV Series Review

High school is a veritable gauntlet of late pubescent challenges. One must deal with the occasional bully, flirt with the occasional classmate, climb the occasional rope, pry open the occasional locker. There are schedules to keep, lunches to eat , passing periods to navigate. Oh, yeah, and there are classes, too, and tests filled with algebraic puzzles, well-laid grammar traps and historical moments that took place in 1642. (Remember, the answer is always 1642.)

Yes, high school is stressful enough without a bunch of trolls crashing the party. And we’re not talking about the sort of trolls that leave nasty messages on your Facebook page, either, but rather literal trolls—huge, horned, fanged, multi-eyed creatures who only leave nasty Facebook messages if they’re really desperate for attention.

The Phantom Troll Booth

Mild-mannered high schooler Jim Lake, quite frankly, doesn’t seem like he’d have much time to deal with these mythical denizens of the night. He’s got plenty on his plate already. Before he even leaves the house, Jim makes lunches (and sometimes dinners) for himself, his best friend Toby and his hard-working mother, Dr. Barbara Lake. (“You mother your mother a lot,” Toby tells him.) Then comes class, and those verbs in English won’t conjugate themselves. Between classes, he’s liable to confront the school’s resident bully or try out for a Shakespeare play. He might stammer out a mangled greeting to his main crush, Claire. He might chat with his strangely ominous history teacher, ominously named Mr. Strickler. Yes, Jim leads quite the full life before the sun even goes down.

But then there’s Jim’s night job—that of the Trollhunter, the armored defender of both troll and humankind.

Jim never applied for the job. He was selected for it by a strange, glowing amulet. I think most mothers and fathers would caution their children from doing the bidding of strange artifacts that knows them by name; whole horror movies have been built around this sort of premise. But in this case, picking up the amulet and taking it home was, apparently, the right thing to do. It seems that the land of the trolls was in grave need of a new champion, and the amulet knows a good champion when it sees it. So even though this particular champion is human—and a fairly scrawny one at that— there’s not much use quibbling with fate.

But a champion does not simply pick up a magic sword and begin, um, championing. Jim must get some on-the-job training and learn just what a champion is expected to do, learning the ropes from friendly trolls Blinky and Arrr and taking his friends Toby and Claire along for the ride. He knows the gig won’t be easy. He knows that it’ll stretch his already limited free time to the, uh, limits, and the gig could threaten his very life.

Touch It With a 10-Foot Troll?

Streaming service Netflix is perhaps best known for its scripted adult dramas, from House of Cards to Orange is the New Black to Stranger Things. But the service likes to offer up a little something for every would-be subscriber, and it’s dabbled in kids’ fare before.

What sets Trollhunters apart, though, is its pedigree.

The story is powered by the imagination of legendary fantasy horrormeister Guillermo del Toro and animated by DreamWorks, the studio behind such movies as Shrek, The Croods and How to Train Your Dragon. A number of cinematic heavyweights voice the characters: Kelsey Grammer (best known as Frasier Crane) brings the friendly six-eyed troll Blinky to life, while everyone from Ron Perlman and Tom Hiddleston lend their voices to the proceedings as well. (Anton Yelchin, who’s played Chekov in the new Star Trek movies, voiced Jim until Yelchin’s untimely death earlier this year.)

But while Netflix certainly funneled plenty of resources into Trollhunters (all episodes of which were released Dec. 23) to ensure a good product, the result is a bit middling for discern-minded families.

First, both the animation and storyline feel a bit pedestrian, given the minds behind it all. It feels cheaper than you might expect—far from the quality of a typical DreamWorks movie.

And while Trollhunters is made with kids in mind, the show still runs into a couple of content issues. It’s pretty violent, for one thing: People and trolls get hurt here, and sometimes they might even die. More troubling for some families will be the fantastical, quasi-spiritual realm in which the show takes place, filled as it is with magic and mysterious relics. When Jim first becomes the Trollhunter, he seems to do so by way of magical incantation..

But in spite of those drawbacks, Trollhunters does give us a likable, brave hero willing to do his best and give his all for others—both as a regular ol’ high schooler and as a sword-swinging champion. It peddles plenty of encouraging messages about taking responsibility, standing up for what’s right and even accepting certain character-creating limitations.

Trollhunters isn’t a great show, not by any stretch. But it’s far from being a monstrosity.

Episode Reviews

Trollhunters: Dec. 23, 2016 “Becoming: Part 1”

Jim finds a mysterious amulet buried underneath a pile of rubble—an amulet that seems to have chosen the teen for an important, world-preserving duty.

The amulet’s former owner is, alas, that pile of rubble. It seems an armored troll was battling one of his evil kin in the shadows of a bridge (the sun’s rays are fatal to trolls). But when it appears that defeat and death are certain, the good troll leaps from the bridge and into the sunlight, which immediately turns him into stone. The statue then hits the ground, smashing into hundreds of pieces.

A school bully tries to keep a fellow classmate trapped inside a locker. Jim, Toby and others encourage the bully to let the student go, which he eventually does. But he challenges Jim to a fight later. An evil troll declares that he’ll destroy Jim—just as he’s destroyed all the champions that came before. When a troll tells Jim about the high “office” he’s been selected to fill, another troll misunderstands: “Orifices? What Orifices?” he says. Jim daydreams about a pretty girl named Claire in class.

The world of trolls is a very magical one, and the amulet’s power is unleashed when Jim reads apparently magic words around the edge, invoking King Arthur’s legendary sorcerer: “For the glory of Merlin, daylight is mine to command!” the words read. The amulet then clothes Jim in shining armor and gifts him with a gigantic sword. Toby appears to leave an OMG hanging, not fully completing the final word. Someone is called a “dweebface.”

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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