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Hilda: [Season One] (2018)

Hilda lives in a cabin in the woods with her mother (Johanna). Hilda is strong-willed, independently minded and loves exploring the wilderness around her home with Twig (her pet deerfox). She crosses paths with trolls, elves, giants, water-spirits and rides wafts through the air. Hilda embarks on a new adventure with her mum when they move to the nearby city of Trolberg. Johanna wants her to make friends with humans not just the non-human that she seems to be most comfortable with.

And so they move to Trolberg which Hilda is convinced will be boring. It does, however, provide her with some of her greatest adventures featuring yet more trolls, rats, magic, bullies, weather spirits, the Sparrow Scouts and making friends with Frida and David who for better or worse are propelled into these adventures.

Hilda started in 2010 as a series of graphic novels by the British cartoonist Luke Pearson. He has penned six books with the most recent being released in 2019. In September 2018 a 13 episode season based on some of these books with new adventures was released by Netflix. It is a British-Canadian produced show with an eclectic cast of characters and voices that reminded me a bit of Moominvalley from 2019. The voices just fit the imagery and world - the right balance of the familiar and the other-worldly ... Just like the artwork.

I *really* want to read the books crafted by Luke Pearson. I really enjoyed exploring the world with Hilda and Twig. There is a slight difference in the look of Hilda as displayed on the books compared to the animated fare. Hilda appears more angular, geometric and once again invokes similarities with the Moomins and the art of Tove Jansson. The subtle changes to the facial features of the humans creates a sense of something a bit more accessible to a wider and possibly younger audience.

The show is filled with colour and uses it to great effect. Hilda's cosy fire-lit front room of warm reds and browns by moonlight is cold, sinister and shadowy grey-blue. The wilderness is full of muted and bleached browns and greens. The mix of both the character designs and the subtle colouring makes a show that is gentle on the eyes. Bright and bold colours are used sparingly and to great effect be that in depicting a supernatural event or amping up the tension.

Hilda's world feels and looks very ordinary it is just alive with imagination and make-believe. That rock looks like a troll - of course it does! We all think these things and Hilda says it. She sees boredom and wonder in the everyday in equal measure. Adjusting to city-life has its challenges for the headstrong protagonist. Used to playing by her own rules making friends is not as obvious as might be expected. Frida and David - about as different from each other as they are from Hilda become her closest friends often dragged along with Hilda in a my-way-or-nothing kind of way. These adventures sow the seeds of tension for later in the series and also give space for our characters to grow.

Frida (with the delightful voice of Ameerah Falzon-Ojo) is an exceptional student, polite, thoughtful and given every opportunity. A smidge highly-strung and a stickler for the rules she acts a bit as the counter-weight to Hilda voicing reason and measure. David on the other hand feels like he speaks for us, the audience (via the voice of Oliver Nelson). He doesn't have the presence (confidence?) of Frida or Hilda, is scared of bugs (giving rise to a regular joke in the series) and so is often carried along with the others. When he speaks it is often what we are thinking "why don't you must tidy your room" or a view on the impending adventure ... especially if it is dangerous.

Through the adventures several themes are picked up without being in your face or shouting its messages at you. Hilda deftly weaves stories around bullying, consequences of action, looking for the good in things, friendship and the perceived need to fit in. The theme of consequences and taking responsibility really stood out for me. It is there in every episode and it doesn't shy away from it. In the episode with the Tide Mice what starts out with the best of intentions escalates was a great example that combined humour, a smidge of the absurd and the need to set things right.

I think what got me hooked into Hilda at the beginning was the world and how forest spirits or creatures just existed and were accepted as part of the environment. There was no explanation nor backstory unless it was required. When the Wood Man walks in delivers some wood and then lays down for a bit of a read no one bats an eyelid ... although he did leave the front door open. Oddly it felt quite refreshing that things just happen and if it was out of the ordinary (for Hilda) we were taken on the adventure to find out what was going on. My most favourite spirit-like characters were the Nisse who live in the spaces behind shelves and under the sofa. The idea was brilliant, they were neatly realised as were their homes. It also gave rise to a fabulous chase scene set-piece near the end of Season 1.

With its themes and spirit-like characters alongside humans, Hilda is a perfect mix of the fun and melancholy. As you would expect the spirits enable the themes to be explored without it being in-your-face. It can therefore change tone very quickly but the rapid cycle through the emotions and feelings has a natural quality to it. There is a marvelous chase sequence in the first episode between Hilda and a troll which goes from tension to sadness,back to a sense of tension again, then joy and a nice resolution. The second episode "The Midnight Giant" really stuck with me. There was a real sense of sadness, loneliness and longing that pervaded the story.

The mix of themes and emotional tone, that it doesn't trivialise or gloss over the more challenging aspects of childhood and growing up results in a show that treats it audience with respect. It credits them with intelligence and takes them along with the characters. There were times, especially when Hilda, David and Frida are split apart that you could imagine an easy resolution and then back to normal the next episode. Hilda and her friends have to work to make things right, be that with a Lost Clan of elves, their families or each other.

You can easily dip in and out of Hilda. Most episodes are stand-alone and are entertaining on their own. However there are clues peppered throughout the early episodes hinting at what is to come later. Later episodes also point back at those that preceded it. Having watched it all the way through I do still go back and watch episodes at random again (The Midnight Giant and The House in the Woods being favourites). 

Hilda has been one of my favourite shows of recent years. In equal measure I wanted to devour it all in one sitting and give myself a bit of time to reflect on each episode and, at times, return and watch it again. It was also one of the few animated shows that I easily recommend to friends and colleagues ... with and without children. It was great to hear the stories of their experiences with it. The world that Hilda inhabit is well realised that within seconds all the events that happen feel like they completely belong there and they are all propelled along by Hilda the blue haired adventurer. Beneath its polish are some dark tales and themes which are explored thoughtfully and with just the right amount of humour to balance it. I'm *really* looking forward to season 2.


IN A NUTSHELL:  Full of child-like wonder and joy, we all need to look at the world a bit more like Hilda.