Hilda is an animated series based on the award-winning British children’s graphic novels by written and illustrated by Luke Pearson. The Canadian-British collaboration explores the life of Hilda, who grew up in the magical wilderness with her mother. But after a misunderstanding with tiny elves and a humongous Midnight Giant, now has to move to the big city of Trolberg. Her adjustments, along with a continual stream of otherworldly creatures, lead to many adventures for her and her new friends.
Despite the magical background, Hilda’s world resembles a 20th century Scandinavia. There are cars, TV sets, and department stores. But just outside the huge walls of Trolberg are roaring trolls, mountains that live and breathe, and flying dog ball things called ‘woffs’. Hilda herself is the juxtaposition between the two worlds. Her affinity for the fantastical wilderness means that she has trouble fitting in with the more blinkered city dwellers. Her questioning nature drags friends into dark sewers to swap secrets with a whispering Rat King, or into forests where the Nightmare Children cackle over the fears of sleeping children.
Drawing inspiration from Scandinavian folk tales, our blue-haired heroine is a fearless adventurer. She's out looking for whatever fascinating things may be skittering just out of view today. After joining the Sparrow Scouts and making friends, she is accompanied by the super organised Frida and sweet if permanently nervous David. Also with them is the tiny elf Alfur who mostly remains invisible, until you complete the proper paperwork. Indeed, ‘all the best legends involve paperwork!’ he says when explaining the great No Elf’s Land contractual dispute of old.
Hilda may be a children’s show at the core. But it is delivered with such warmth and creativity that it cannot fail to be engaging to kids and adults alike. Much like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, Hilda’s determination makes this a showcase for the self-assurance of a young female protagonist who isn’t afraid of exploration. Some scary things may happen around her, but her strength of character is a focal point for children watching and so they can be assured by her own (non-overbearing) confidence.
Of late Cartoon Network has been the place to go for places rich with such imagination (Adventure Time, The Regular Show, The Amazing World of Gumball, and OK KO: Let’s Be Heroes to name but a few). But Netflix has scored a winner with Hilda because unlike those other shows it manages to be utterly ageless. There are no wry pop culture jokes or innuendos layered unnecessarily into the dialogue. Instead, even amongst the gloriously creative elements, Hilda still suffers from real concerns. Will she fit in? Why should she compromise? Is it important to be liked or to be true to yourself? When the Nightmare Children strike her fear isn’t spiders or ghosts, but not being good enough for her friends.
Hilda strikes a perfect balance so that it is equally entertaining, charming, magical, and fun. It’s a warm and nourishing show for all ages. It doesn’t demand itself with sugar-powered speed and frantic action. Nor does it languish in self-absorbed pretentiousness. It just calmly and politely delivers smile-inducing adventure to your screen and is all the better for it.
Words by Michael Record