Hilda is an ode to childhood wonder

With the past year all but wrapped, we’re looking back at our favorite entertainment things of 2018. Today, the Netflix Original, Hilda.

We are in the age of the comic book adaptation. Our favorite paneled stories dominate movies, television, and video games more than ever before. With so many iterations—just look at Marvel’s Spider-man—critics like Jodie Foster have sparked conversations about how these adaptations may be ruining our viewing experiences. But the lesser-known stories in this genre are offering audiences something different from the usual clatter of superheroes. Among these pleasant outliers is the Netflix Original Hilda.

The animated show chronicles our titular character’s life in the wilderness and its neighboring city, Trolberg. The first episode opens with Hilda (voiced by Bella Ramsey, Lyanna Mormont of Game of Thrones) journeying through the woods alongside Twig, her pet deer-fox. They encounter several magical creatures that she greets with nonchalance. Within minutes, we breathlessly trail the duo as they scamper through the forest to escape a pursuing troll. But we soon discover that the danger is never what it seems — a common theme in the series.

Hilda is set in a fictional Scandinavian world brimming with mythology. Elves, giants, and trolls roam the hillsides; spirits dwell in the water, weather, and nightmares; and a rat king knows everyone’s secrets. But there is more — wonderfully more — to this universe. There are scary and dark moments, but the lighter moments are dollops of peppermint cutting the bitterness.

The animated show is based on British cartoonist Luke Pearson’s graphic novel series Hildafolk. It is a delightful combination of Adventure Time (on which Pearson also worked), a gentler Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the whimsy of Hayao Miyazaki. The series’ soft color palette is paired to a chill soundtrack, with Canadian musician Grimes providing the theme song. It’s the opposite of the nauseatingly bright colors and frenetic noises that characterize most children’s animated programming. This is likely because Hilda was created for older children but will appeal to adults as well. Parents may despair when their children watch episodes without them.

The storytelling is one of the beautiful aspects of Hilda. The plots are rollicking but not manic. And plot details intersect in surprising and fun ways. Each episode reveals important morals that are never tacked on but are integral to the plot development. At the end of it, our hearts are fed, but we are still left begging for more.

What stands out most in this series is that it doesn’t rely on the cache of tropes common to adventure-themed television shows. Our protagonist is brilliant and daring in her girlhood, while also being humble and vulnerable. In contrast to most parents in children’s shows who are ignorant to their child’s activities, Hilda’s mother is often central to the storylines. And her acceptance and guidance drives Hilda onward when she wants to give up.

When Hilda and her mother move to Trolberg, a bustling city created to protect its inhabitants from the trolls beyond its walls, she soon befriends Frida and David. Frida (Ameerah Falzon-Ojo) defies the Black best friend cliche as a headstrong character who is complex and exists outside of Hilda’s presence. She is never a sidekick but a leader to many of their adventures. And then there is soft-spoken David (Oliver Nelson) whose trepidation balances out the gregarious nature of the others. Ever a reluctant participant, he is diligent and loyal, and just as important as his friends.

The show is radical in its portrayal of women and friendships. It removes gender specific interest and thus Hilda is neither a girls’ girl nor a tomboy. She just is and her relationships connect to all viewers.

Within the thrills and supernatural moments of Hilda, it’s possible to see narratives of our own lives played within the show. But deeper than that is the gentle prodding the show elicits at the back of our mind as it revisits the wonder and magic cultivated in childhood. Hilda wants you to know that there are wild and brilliant worlds that exist in our forests, backyards, and even our own homes. But if we want to see them, we must flip our perspective because what we may seem disturbing may actually be rewarding.

In the words of our teal-haired heroine, “such is the life of an adventurer.”

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