There are very few shows that I would recommend with little to no caveats attached. Sure, most TV shows are going to have a few weak points or have some questionable content. Shows that have good lessons, engaging story, and characters that are believable and relate-able while still managing to wrestle in clean language and humor are rare. I can list most of the older elementary shows that fit this category in a short list:
Batman: The Animated Series (from the 90s)
Avatar: The Last Airbender
and introducing, Trollhunters
Now, to be fair, I cannot claim that I disovered Trollhunters on my own. This find rests squarely on the shoulders of my brother-in-law and nephew. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the show after watching my nephew swing whatever sword-like object he could find into the air shouting, “For the glory of Merlin, daylight is mine to command!” and proceeding to attack me ferociously. Well, as ferociously as a young child can, but it still seemed rather intense.
The show itself focuses on a young man in high school named Jim and his buddy Toby as they discover that trolls (a subterranean race of stone-based creatures) exist. Jim is chosen by “the Amulet” as the new “Trollhunter” (who ironically defends the good trolls from bad ones, despite the imposing name) who must stop an ancient evil from finding its way out of the Dark Lands. Now, if that seemed a little arcane to you, don’t worry. The show takes its time spooling out the thread of its deep and well-developed lore so that at no point will a viewer feel completely lost. The plot moves at a steady pace, not rushing in order to get to a destination, but allowing viewers to become truly attached to each of the protagonists and their personal struggles and victories.
Trollhunters delves into topics such as friendship and loyalty, single parent families, abandonment by parents, courage, determination, dependability, and honesty. Each episode may not have a specific “moral,” but at least one character has grown or changed by the time each credit sequence rolls.
If anyone could find an issue with the series, it might be either with the emphasis on magic and mild fantasy violence. Magic is used as a tool, that often causes more problems than it solves. (Think of magic here like the Internet, used appropriately, it’s a great tool, inappropriately, it can wreck lives.) Violence is part and parcel of the whole “trollhunter” role, but most of Jim’s battles are self-defense or the defense of others. He often chooses to fight with the intention to spare his enemies, though it doesn’t always work out that way. We also get to see Jim struggle with not being able to solve every problem and learn that most problems are more easily solved in a group. (There is a romantic plot between two characters, but it’s a chaste romance by modern standards: mild flirting, some glances, and an almost kiss, if I recall correctly.) Oh, one more issue is the plot device often left untouched by other superhero shows – keeping the heroism a secret… even from parents. The secrecy of Jim’s life begins to wear on his relationship with his mother and causes a rift. It is a great lesson in honesty inspiring trust, though and could very well lead to some great conversation about honesty and responsibility.
Overall, the series is well animated with a wonderfully cartoony style done with CGI. Characters (including trolls and enemies) are unique enough to maintain continuity and keep confusion at bay. Villains are scary, but never to the point of utter terror. The sense of urgency is quite present at all moments, creating a sense of acute dread that eases with the heroic credit music, but will keep viewers coming back with each successive episode.
If you have an aspiring hero in your house, give this one a watch. Watch it with your child. My brother in law is currently building my nephew a life-size replica of “Daylight” (the protagonist’s main weapon) because they both enjoy the series so much. Laugh, cry, gasp, and cheer with your kids at Jim and the Trollhunters’ exploits. It’s worth a watch for older elementary, and maybe even younger, depending on your child.
Watch with them. Ask questions. And learn about each other together.
Oh… and never forget Rule 3. It’s vital.