Andy’s bottom line:
Netflix’s Hilda has a character in it named The Wood Man who is made of wood and breaks into your house. Also, the girl who plays Lyanna Mormont in Game of Thrones voices the main character. Strong recommend.
Did that sell you? Okay, my job’s done; click here to go watch it on Netflix. Not sure yet? Don’t trust me? Annoyed that maybe I neglected to mention anything remotely close to a plot detail? Read on.
Hold on, Andy—Why do have blog?
Good question. Why DO have blog? Well, to get to the heart of it—I am of the opinion that modern culture propagates some really backwards ideas about what adulthood means. And sure, I could eloquently explain my point and how it relates to cartoons, but C.S. Lewis already did the heavy lifting on that about 65 years ago:
Smash cut to 65 years later: yeah…we still haven’t figured this out.
I’m 30 years old, and I love animation. I love the art, the voice acting, the diversity in storytelling it allows, the stylistic freedom. Every time I discover a promising cartoon, all I can think about is A) how to watch more of it, and B) how to get all my friends on the bandwagon with me (cause without them it’s just an Andywagon, and I don’t even have a waggoner’s license). I’m a cartoon evangelist down to my bones, so the idea that there are people out there who still think “cartoons are for babies” really smashes my pumpkins.
However, if I had to guess, I would say that rather than outright dismissal of animation as a viable form of entertainment, most people just don’t think to seek it out. They fondly remember the shows they watched as kids—Johnny Quest, Jem, Tiny Toons, Pokémon—but when they open up Netflix they just decide to re-watch a live-action show they’ve seen 30 times already until they fall asleep. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, of course, but to me it’s a bit like living your whole life without eating tacos. Tacos are great. There’s room in your diet for tacos, even if your friend Stewart says tacos are for babies.
So here’s two reminders:
We can still go back and enjoy our childhood cartoons unironically as adults. Really, it’s okay.
There are new cartoons being made all the ding-dang time, and some of them are really pushing the envelope in exciting, unprecedented ways.
Which brings me, finally, to this blog. My goal is to identify promising-looking animated projects, and catch them as they first air. New show premieres? New blog post from ol’ Andy. These aren’t reviews, they’re first impressions, so I’ll be writing them as such. And if, through this project, I am able to introduce you to something you fall in love with, I will consider that a rousing success. Heck, maybe I’ll even do it on my first try.
Ever heard of Hilda? No? Gosh, it’s been out for like 24 hours, where you been?
Okay, let’s talk Hilda before we die of old age
Four episodes watched out of thirteen. Unfamiliar with the source material.
Hilda and her mother live in the middle of a picturesque valley miles away from civilization, the only two occupants of a solitary house that’s been in their family for generations. She spends most of her time exploring the acres-upon-acres of wilderness surrounding their home, befriending the fantastical creatures that live there, and filling her sketchbook with portraits of trolls and giants.
Her mother, concerned that Hilda isn’t getting the chance to make any friends her own age (or species), suggests a move to nearby Trolberg, a city that, in Hilda’s words, “built a wall to keep out anything interesting.” Though initially resistant to the idea, she soon learns that humans and cities have plenty of their own worthwhile mysteries to unravel.
In almost any other children’s cartoon, the fairy-tale creatures and adventures would all be in Hilda’s head, and her mother would be kept out of the loop. The dangers would be imagined, the worldbuilding would all be allegorical, and it would basically just be Rugrats. Hilda takes the absolute opposite tack, and I simply adore it. Magical creatures are just a fact of life in this world, and her mother has as much interaction with them as anyone else. My favorite example of this is an enigmatic figure named The Wood Man, who enters their home unannounced (and without knocking first) to deliver firewood. And take a nap, or whatever. Both Hilda and her mother are exasperated with him, but then again, it seems these are the hazards of living out in the woods. You gotta deal with The Wood Man. The stylistic choice to normalize the abnormal allows the writers to avoid so many clichéd tropes it’s almost unreal. When Hilda tells her mother that she’s going to go parlay with a bunch of invisible elves, she doesn’t bat an eye—she has no reason not to believe it’s true. Without plot contrivance in the way, what we’re left with is a refreshingly positive, healthy, and honest relationship between a mother and daughter. I’m there for it.
I’m no expert when it comes to talking about the actual process of animation, but the way this toon does its move-y bits is sure purty. The art direction on display is inventive and playful. It lives somewhere between the styles of Gravity Falls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends in terms of its amount of detail and use of solid colors with selective palettes (see the picture to the left). Every new creature design that is introduced is a fully realized idea, bursting with personality and almost always surprising. The way everything moves makes perfect sense—the tiny elves dart around frantically, the mountain-sized giant ponderously lumbers across the valley, and even The Wood Man has his own unique tempo as he loads up another jazz record to relax to. If there’s any nit I can pick about the presentation, it’s in the outlines, especially on character models in close-up. It’s almost like the black lines have been given a once-over with course sandpaper, leaving them purposefully rough. I can understand the desire to imply a graphite pencil sketch, especially considering Hilda’s obsession with her own personal sketchbook, but in the end the effect just kind of looks like something didn’t render correctly.
The biggest takeaway for me is how much I like Hilda. The character, that is. Thanks in no small part to her voice actor, the 14-year-old Bella Ramsey (of recent Game of Thrones fame), she comes off as a self-assured engine of curiosity and childlike stubbornness. She’s scared of being put out of her comfort zone, but willing to take risks when called for. She’s at the age when she’s starting to develop a real emotional intelligence, and you can see it in the way she interacts with her mother. It’s clear she understands that her mom is an actual person with feelings; again, this is so refreshing in a world of children’s entertainment that so often likes to depict parents as absent, antagonistic, or both. Hilda, most of all, just seems like the kind of kid that my inner child would have wanted to hang out with.
So should I watch this one?
Are you looking for something heartwarming and surprising? Definitely.
Do you appreciate the art in a show just as much as the story? This one’s gonna make you smile.
Are you looking for an exciting long-form plot with lots of twists? Nah, look elsewhere.
Do you just want to watch Batman Beyond again? I don’t know why you clicked this article. But I feel you.