Guillermo del Toro, the horror art-movie director, has created a cartoon series, “Trollhunters,” based on the 2015 young adult novel of the same name he wrote with Daniel Kraus (“The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch”).
Produced by DreamWorks Animation and premiering Friday on Netflix (home also to the DreamWorks series “Voltron: Legendary Defender”) it’s more streamlined and less explicitly gruesome than the book, and at the same time busier — more of a TV series. The setting has moved from San Bernardino to the fictional everytown of Arcadia. Characters have been invented, lost or altered. Jokes have been punched up; the action, of which there is much, has the visceral advantage of being staged rather than described.
Our hero is Jim (voiced by the late Anton Yelchin), a human teenager. Neither the least nor the most tortured kid in his class, he cooks expertly for his busy doctor mother — it’s a single-parent situation, as it so often is — moons over classmate Claire (Lexi Medrano), and distractedly dreams of a more exciting life than the one he’s got, with no particular sense of what that might be.
Jim has a comical best friend, Tobias (Charlie Saxton), who, in a trope that goes back to Sancho Panza and the Hardy Boys’ chum Chet, is fat; but the television version does him the favor at least of changing his nickname from Tub to Tobes. (There are still cracks about food, though.)
Late for school one morning, cutting across a concrete riverbed of the sort featured in countless movie car chases, Jim is psychically called to by a magic amulet (James Purefoy), buried in a pile of rocks.
“Huh,” he says, picking it up. “Looks like an amulet.”
It is the Amulet of Merlin, we will learn, which is both a source of power and a target on Jim’s back, and the rocks are the sun-frozen remains of the last Trollhunter. The amulet has chosen him to be the next one, charged with protecting good trolls from the bad ones, as well as from “goblins, gruesomes and an occasional rogue gnome.”
So explains six-eyed, four-armed Blinky (Kelsey Grammer), one of the good ones, who has his own large sidekick, a videotape-eating overgrown sweetheart named AAARRRGGHH!!! (Fred Tatasciore). Blinky will be Jim’s guide in his new after-school job, keeping trolldom safe from harm, mainly embodied in a mountain of bad news named Bular (Ron Perlman), who has killed several of his predecessors.
“I don’t want to die,” says Jim. (This is not the excitement he was looking for.)
“Goodness gracious,” Blinky laughs. “Who does?”
The human characters sport the rubbery look common to computer animation — Jim has the physique and physics of Woody from “Toy Story,” basically — but the monsters, who come in a variety of shapes, sizes and configurations of limbs and features, seem paradoxically more real. And this may be Kelsey Grammer’s best role since “Frasier,” I state without irony or insult.
There is nothing particularly novel here. There are bikes and bullies; untrustworthy adults and trusty adults too trusting of the untrustworthy ones; ancient spells and sacred responsibilities; a busy world veiled from our own. There is the juxtaposition of the suburban and the uncanny. There is the fate of the world placed on characters not nearly out of high school. If you can’t think of at least half a dozen films or books or TV shows that fit this description, you have not spent much time at the movies or in front of a television, or reading young adult novels in, oh, the last 30 years.
It matters little. Alongside Del Toro, the writing credits include Marc Guggenheim, who developed “Arrow” for the CW, and Dan and Kevin Hageman (“The Lego Movie”), who are all executive producers. They have made their series with brio and wit, as much majesty as the budget will allow, and enough suspense and mystery to make one invest in subsequent episodes as they arrive.
When: Any time
Rating: TV-Y7-FV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 7 with an advisory for fantasy violence)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd