5 out of 5
Directed by: Andy Coyle
I think they just stop making animated shows after this, because perfection has been achieved?
Hilda: an amazing voicecast, a wonderful expansion of already wonderful source material by comic creator Luke Pearson – that takes advantage of the serialized format to maybe even improve on some aspects – continually inventive and pleasing animation, a well-chosen score, a group of characters that you’re okay with spending time with literally any of them, and smart and funny writing that balances the bests of creature-of-the-week tales and ongoing storylines, without the clear lines which most shows have to bound back and forth over when juggling the two. It’s stupidly, insanely, good. And this is wrong of me to say, but I knew it would be: anyone smart enough to adapt Hilda (the show is written by a small group of mostly Stephanie Simpson and TMNT alumni Kenny Byerly and directed by Andy Coyle) would have to know to do it right, which means maintaining Luke Pearson’s joyfully unique world.
…In which, in a goddamn FINALLY reversal of kids’ story tropes, Hilda lives in a world in which all sorts of monsters and folklore-tinged spirits live and spook: stone trolls, the wood man, elves, bunny armies, ghosts, and witches, with their own enchantments and embargoes and bylaws and logics. The key word there is live: Pearson’s setting is one in which such creatures view humans as just another something to deal with; they have their own matters to get on about, excepting when Hilda stumbles into something that means everyone has get on the same page. Thankfully, Hilda seems to be gifted at just that: conversing with any and everything. Except, y’know, humans. She happily lives in the wilderness with just her mum, and her pet fox thing Twig, and whatever she discovers in the forest.
So what’s this ‘goddamn finally’ thing I’m talking about? Mum can see and interact with all of these creatures too. They’re not myth; there’s no dumb subplot about kids trying to get adults to understand. When Hilda and her mother find themselves moving into town, there’s a wall set up to keep the trolls out, and they all worship a raven god. So not only can we skip past secret kid covenants and whatever else, the bulk of the episodes are about learning about these various creatures and not wasting time trying to surprise us with their appearances. And each and every episode manages to introduce something new, while not forgetting – and often working in – the old, also moving along the larger plot of Hilda’s growing attachment to her new home and newly discovered human friends. But she misses the woods; Hilda doesn’t short us on the realistic senses of gain and loss that accompanies, in general, life.
This setup has a bit of a learning curve in the books. Left to dawdle over the delightful artwork (faithfully represented here, both in color and form and a nice handdrawn look to the details), I found myself mystified by the lore and it wasn’t clear to me that it was real and evident to mom and the rest; I kept expecting a ‘twist’ that would Calvin and Hobbes the whole thing. This goes away after a book or so, but the cartoon never really leaves it in question due to the fact that your pacing is determined by the show.
I wish I could prattle on effectively about the voice cast. Both Bella Ramsey and Daisy Haggard as Hilda and her mum, respectively, are superb: there’s no cutesy downplaying in their affectations or faux-feelings in their emotions, and the side characters all do equally well at either rounding out their parts or just delivering downright hilarious deadpans, in the case of Wood Man’s voice.
At 30 minutes an episode, it’s likely you can finish the series before I run out of grand things to slobber on about, so you might as well get started.
(…But, uh, to the animation peoples: please don’t stop making cartoons just because Hilda is so good.)