It’s hard to imagine a scenario that is more frightening than rescuing your child from a particular danger, and then waking up the next morning to find a stranger’s child sleeping in her bed. That’s exactly what’s happening at the end of the second season of Netflix’s essential animated show Hilda. Fans have been waiting for a year now to see that the cliffhanger is fixed.
At the beginning of Hilda and the mountain king, the film covering the second season of the series, Hilda has become a troll, while Baba, the changing troll baby left in her place, has become a human little child. Baba’s mother used troll magic to swap the two, and wanted to give her daughter the comfortable life as a human being. Hilda wakes up in the trolls’ cave dwelling, with a body made of stone. Baba wakes up in Hilda’s bed, a big shock for Hilda’s mother, who spends the rest of the episode desperately looking for her daughter. The film is an excellent length of play Hilda episode, but the 84-minute playing time also allows it to raise the stakes in the subdued series appropriately and tackle some of the enduring mysteries at the core of Trolberg.
It’s hard not to miss the familiar gala-walking-around-Trolberg jokes that an entire season of the show would offer. But troll-human conflict has always been at the heart of the show, so it’s good to see Mountain King finally address the mysteries surrounding it. The film draws on the familiar rhythm of one Hilda episode – Hilda has gotten into trouble and has to use her bravery and cunning to find a solution. The film focuses on a question that has always been the basis of the series: Why do trolls live around the city of Trolberg, despite humanity’s obvious contradictions against them.
Hilda has always had an interest in trolls, starting with the serial pilot, where she sketches one in her forest home. After moving to Trolberg, she increasingly advocates for the well-being of trolls and pushes back against the task force that “protects” the city. The tensions between trolls and humans have slowly increased throughout Hildas two seasons, whether the conflicts buzz in the background or are at the center as the subject of an episode.
As a human being, Hilda pushed to ask questions about things the city’s residents took for granted – primarily why Trolberg uses bells to “protect” their residents when they are obviously causing trolls so much pain. In her new form of trolls, Hilda gets a first-hand understanding of the complaints that trolls have, and the variation – in physical form and belief – in their society. Some of these divergences are silly, as many of them collect specific items such as “soft linens” or “teapots and mugs.” Some of them are scary, like in trolls who want to destroy Trolberg together, versus those who just want to live undisturbed. She also learns that it’s really fun to live like a troll. They are incredibly strong with bodies that are more durable than human bodies. Their hobbies include “throwing each other”, which allows them to soar through the air. As explorers, these are all qualities that Hilda rewards.
It also turns out that trolls and humans have common features: Both the troll mother and Hilda’s mother want to be reunited with their daughters, even though the troll mother made the prey in the first place. Much of the film relies on this narrative parallel, the “finding similarities” trope, which is common in children’s media and which often creates the conditions for a simple, positive solution. But where children’s media often use this idea to create a false sense of similarity between two factions – even if one of them is the aggressor and the oppressor – Mountain King draws no blows. It rejects this false dichotomy by making it clear that humans have caused trolls very real suffering. It shows trolls as a broader society that deserves compassion, even though some of them have reacted to people with violence. These people drove the trolls to violent retaliation and exploited them to respond with further harm.
Hilda is still a children’s show and Hilda is still saving the day. Her friends Frida and David use a lot of the film fighting for a campaign that seeks to portray trolls as threatening and violent, to justify deadly power against them. The weight and gravity of the story rounds it off to a solid wrapping for season 2, especially in its yield to the foundation laid earlier: A girl moves to a new city. First it changes her, then she and her friends change it in turn. In this well-orchestrated narrative clarity, with its sharp plot, the film loses a bit of the show’s spontaneity and unpredictability. Still, it’s short and sweet.
It’s hard not to miss the more silly, hand-bought jokes at regular episodes of Hilda, which not only offers that variety but also eases the mood considerably. Mountain King has its jokes and moments of frivolity, but its overall tone is more consistently dark and transitions briefly into child-friendly thrills. (While the whole movie is arguably a children’s horror story – being separated from a primary caretaker can be a daunting prospect for a child that Disney has long acknowledged.)
More than anything else, Hilda and the mountain king sets the stage for Hildathird season, given the potential of its world. The film opens the door to dozens of new questions and adventures. How will the urban population – who are not particularly known for their openness – react to the changes taking place in this film? What adventures will Hilda and her friends go on next time? It all leaves me scratching for more ensemble adventures, more sparrow scout marks, more wild creatures to meet, and ultimately more space spent in this world I have come to love.
Hilda and the mountain king is now streaming on Netflix.