Now streaming globally on Netflix, DreamWorks Animation’s Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans, from Academy Award-winning filmmaker and executive producer Guillermo del Toro, provides exciting, action-packed closure to the studio’s epic “Tales of Arcadia” science fantasy adventure franchise that, since 2016, has entertained audiences with 88 episodes spanning three consecutive series and now, a concluding 3DCG feature film.
Directed by Johanne Matte, Francisco Ruiz Velasco, and Andrew L. Schmidt, Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans is written by del Toro, Marc Guggenheim and the Hageman brothers, Dan and Kevin. The brothers also executive produce along with del Toro, Guggenheim, and Chad Hammes.
The stellar voice cast includes Emile Hirsch; Lexi Medrano; Charlie Saxton; Kelsey Grammar; Alfred Molina; Steven Yeun; Nick Frost; Colin O’Donoghue; Diego Luna; Tatiana Maslany; Cole Sands; Nick Offerman; Fred Tatasciore; Brian Blessed; Kay Bess; Piotr Michael; James Hong; Tom Kenny; Angel Lin; Amy Landecker; Jonathan Hyde; Bebe Wood; Laraine Newman; Grey Griffin; and Cheryl Hines. Phew!
Winner of five Annie Awards, eight Emmy Awards and three Kidscreen Awards, the franchise began development life as a live-action feature but, for budgetary reasons, eventually became a novel, “Tales of Arcadia: Trollhunters,” which was picked up by DreamWorks and Netflix on its way to becoming an animated TV series trilogy – Trollhunters, 3Below, and Wizards – and feature.
In the movie, Arcadia, though it seems like any ordinary town, lies at the center of magical and mystical lines that makes it a nexus for many battles among otherworldly creatures including trolls, aliens, and wizards. Heroes from the three series team-up in an exciting adventure where they must fight the Arcane Order for control over the magic that binds them all.
Since 2016, del Toro and his creative team have built a rich and emotional narrative while continually advancing the shows’ technical achievements. “We always hoped these three series could culminate with a massive ‘all-star’ reunion,” del Toro noted in discussing the franchise this past June at the 2021 Annecy Festival. “We wanted the feature to improve and expand but to also deliver more scope, more spectacle … more emotion, too. We are very proud of the Tales of Arcadia and extremely eager to deliver this spectacular finale.”
It’s important to remember that though Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans was released after the successful series trilogy runs, the germ of the story began in the world of live-action film. “Trollhunters started as a film, beautifully written by Marc and Guillermo del Toro,” Kevin and Dan Hageman explain. “It was so imaginative, filled with adventure, and packed with so much world building — so much so that it became clear that one movie could never do it justice. When it became a series, we were enlisted to help serialize it to 52 episodes — which is a lot. We wish we could tell you we knew where the story was going, but when there are that many episodes ahead of you, the only way to tell a story is with a flashlight, simply focusing on the next 13 episodes. What’s also imperative is having an amazing writers’ room. Not only did A.C. Bradley and Chad Quandt & Aaron Waltke help lay the foundation to the trilogy, they also were instrumental in heading the writers’ room for subsequent series — Bradley with 3Below and Quandt & Waltke with Wizards.”
According to Guggenheim, story development on the film began while Wizards was being written, with both teams collaborating to ensure the narrative paths were consistent and made sense. “There was a huge amount of back and forth,” he says. “We really didn’t leave any story stone unturned. Everything got a proper vetting and thorough discussion. It was interesting because we were breaking the story for the movie while Wizards was being written and we really have to give a shout out to Chad Quandt, Aaron Waltke, and the entire Wizards staff because they were immensely imaginative, supportive, and extremely flexible to accommodate the things we needed to properly set up the movie.”
Though the series and film standout for their expansive and elaborate visual design and 3DCG animation, each show was developed with an eye on story, not “what’s producible,” a directive that came directly from del Toro. “Guillermo has always encouraged us to write without regard for what is feasible or even affordable,” Guggenheim shares. “So, we pretty much wrote with the assumption that our incredibly talented production partners — who have been with Tales of Arcadia since the first Trollhunters episode — would be able to pull off our craziness.”
Money, or lack thereof, always impacts creative decision-making, and the final film’s greater budget allowed for more sophisticated designs and visuals. “As anyone who works in television knows,” Dan and Kevin note, “time is money, and in television, you’re always running out of it. There’s a reason features look better, and all the credit goes to our amazing directors and visual team.”
With Trollhunters series trilogy serving as a rich and comprehensive “backstory” for the final film, the brothers knew audiences not up-to-speed with the backstory and characters might need to catchup quickly. “We knew we were going to be throwing a lot at a new viewer,” they add. “This is a world made up of trolls, aliens, and wizards — if they can buy that, we can all have a lot of fun. Also, big giant titans destroying the world helps.”
For Guggenheim, like so many other executive producers in similar situations, the film’s biggest challenge was the COVID-19 lockdown. “It’s not a very original answer, but the pandemic probably posed the biggest challenge,” he admits. “The movie was animated by artists all over the world and everyone had to transition to remote work while in the midst of producing the movie. The way everyone came together without missing a step was really inspiring.”
With audiences now enjoying the epic franchise finale, Guggenheim hopes the wait for the final Trollhunters effort was worth it. “We hope that the audience will come away from the experience feeling like the trilogy came to a satisfying end,” he concludes. “We hope they are moved emotionally. And, of course, we hope the whole franchise is remembered fondly and for a long time. But at the end of the day, none of those things are in our control. The audience gets to decide how they feel and what they take away from the viewing experience. We’re just grateful that they have invested so much of their time in watching it.”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.