Guillermo del Toro is not normally the sort of filmmaker one goes to for family-friendly entertainment. From his dark Oscar-nominated fantasy “Pan’s Labyrinth,” to last year’s delicious Gothic horror movie “Crimson Peak,” del Toro is a master at giving audiences the willies.
So some Netflix viewers might not know what to make of the fact that del Toro has created a new series called “TrollHunters.” Are these gory, R-rated trolls we’re dealing with?
Far from it. “TrollHunters,” which premiered its first 26-episode season on Dec. 23 on Netflix, is a very fun animated series designed for, as del Toro put it on Twitter, families snuggled up on the couch to enjoy “milk, cookies, and monsters.” Fans young and old who like action-oriented animated films like the “Kung Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon” series will want to make time over the holidays to binge.
The show’s hero is Jim, an awkward teenager living with his overworked doctor mother. Jim is voiced by Anton Yelchin, the “Star Trek” actor who tragically died this year at 27, and Yelchin’s voice acting gives Jim an earnest energy. He’s also very funny.
One day on the way to school, Jim finds a glowing blue amulet hidden among some rubble in a dried-out culvert. The amulet “chooses” Jim to become the next TrollHunter, the protector of the secret troll world that lives below our feet. Sounds cool, except that the rubble was the remains of the last TrollHunter, killed and turned to stone by the evil troll Bular (Ron Perlman).
“TrollHunters” balances Jim’s everyday teenage misadventures — avoiding the school bully, playing Romeo in the school play — with his adventures down in the world of the trolls, which is lovingly rendered by the series’ impressive animation. I’m used to fairly routine, repetitive animation on kids’ TV shows, but the visuals here are quite spectacular.
Also a cut above is the storytelling; instead of just fighting a different villain every episode, the first season of “TrollHunters” follows Jim’s hero’s journey, an epic story that makes it perfect for bingeing. The voice acting is strong; in addition to Yelchin, Kelsey Grammer is perfect as Blinky, Jim’s enthusiastic troll guide. Another troll, simply named “ARRRRGHHH!!!”, seems to be a visual homage to Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.”
The show is full of humor and action, and has a cheerful spirit that rarely lets up. It’s a perfect introduction for kids to the imagination of del Toro. Although they might want to wait until they move on to “The Devil’s Backbone” or “Cronos."
Also on streaming: Netflix had a lot of success updating the ‘80s sitcom “Full House” into the hit “Fuller House,” which just got approved for a third season in 2017. Now they’ve gone back to the classic TV well with a reboot of the ‘70s sitcom “One Day at a Time,” which premieres its third season on Jan. 6.
The “reimagining” of the Norman Lear-created sitcom stars Justina Machado as a Cuban-American Iraq War veteran adjusting to civilian life as a single mother and nurse. Rita Moreno plays her mother, and, yes, fans of the original series, there is a “Schneider” (Todd Grinnell).