“Well that was pretty traumatic!” admits Hilda after an encounter with a forest troll, “but such is the life of an adventurer.” That adventurer is the kind and brave protagonist of Netflix’s new animated series that bears her name; a small, blue-haired girl who takes on the challenges of the world around her with excitement and gusto. The fantasy series, based on the graphic novels of the same name, follows Hilda as she and her mother move from their isolated home in the wilderness to the crowded city of Trolberg, seemingly the antithesis of the carefree life full of creatures that Hilda has grown up with. But things are not, of course, just as they seem.
Fans of series like Over the Garden Wall and Adventure Time (which British cartoonist and Hilda creator Luke Pearson also has storyboard credit on) will see similarities here, but Hilda is also completely its own. The series’ style is simple, colorful, and fast-paced without ever feeling manic (a problem with many kid-oriented series). But the show is also not just for kids; younger children may even be frightened of the dark shadows and glowing eyes of encroaching trolls or Marra dream demons. Hilda has plenty of humor to it that adults should appreciate, and Hilda’s mother is — shockingly! — not dismissed as being out-of-touch or unimportant to the story. She’s supportive and able to see and interact with all of the same magical creatures Hilda does (everyone in this world can, actually, which is a nice change — Hilda isn’t special in regards to any powers, she’s just kind and brave and fun). The series also boasts a cool, bass-driven soundtrack and a theme song by Grimes, giving it a kind of a low-fi beat that’s unique and appreciated.
Pearson has created a familiar but enchanted world that is full of Scandinavian influences (visually and its lore), though Hilda and most of her friends have English accents, with a voice cast that includes Bella Ramsey, Daisy Haggard, Ameerah Falzon-Ojo, Oliver Nelson, and Rasmus Hardiker (there are occasional American voices — they’re never quite as charming). The world’s magical elements include flying balls of fluff called Woffs that migrate through the sky at night, as well as tiny elves that require you to sign an exceptional amount of paperwork before they let you see them. At Hilda’s side is also her faithful deerfox Twig, a kawaii-cute creature who is also a fearsome fighter. There are also some scary inhabitants, like trolls and giants who may be misunderstood, but still have an imposing presence.
There are plenty of opportunities for metaphors within Pearson’s storytelling, as Hilda and her mother move to the seemingly less magical Trolberg. But even at face value, the story works to explore how new adventures and opportunities abound even in unexpected places. In the city, Hilda also finds a group of friends in the Sparrow Scouts, after a misfire with another group of kids who like to do things like throw rocks at birds. Whereas a lesser show might have taught the “don’t throw rocks at birds” lesson another way, in Hilda, the raven that was struck turns out to be an integral part of Trolberg’s lore. Similarly, Hilda and her friends often come up against antagonistic (at least initially) creatures in otherwise mundane scouting activities, which always draws the story back to the fantastical and never leaves any lessons learned feeling heavy-handed.
Having watched half of the first season so far, I can say that while not every episode will land equally for everyone (it will mostly come down to personal preference), the short episodes are tied together enough that it’s always worthwhile visit every chapter of Hilda’s world, wherever it may be. There are also times when the series does feel a little young as an adult viewer (it would be exactly the kind of sweet but never saccharine series I would have adored growing up), and yet, that kind of purity, happiness, and positivity — amid the adventure and light terror, of course — is a pretty nice TV respite. Regardless of age, Hilda invites viewers to join in the mystery and thrill of adventure, and to find the magic in the introduction of these many creatures, and some of their curious habits, in an upbeat and wonderful world. Though Hilda must grow up and accept city life, she need not put aside her childlike wonder. Neither should we.
Hilda is currently streaming on Netflix