Movie Review: “Hilda and the Mountain King” takes the comic book/TV series heroine into the realm of trolls

If you’re not watching Netflix’s series adaptation of Luke Pearson’s “Hilda” books, about a little Scandinavian girl interacting and learning about the magical creatures all around her, the feature-length film “Hilda and the Mountain King” may not be the most comprehensible introduction to this world.

A follow-up to the most recent “Hilda” series, it plunges us straight into her reality, mid-dilemma, and forces the viewer to adjust to the simple, TV-budget animation, the vast clutter of characters and what that does to a story that breaks down “prejudice” into its root words — “pre judging.”

Aimed at the very youngest viewers, Hilda (voiced by Bella Ramsey) is a curious child raised by her doting single-mom (Daisy Haggard), with a couple of human friends at school, and assorted magical beings and critters who help her through various predicaments.

“Mountain King” hurls her into her biggest challenge yet. A resident of Trolberg, where the cynical, fearmongering chief of the guards Erik Ahlberg (John Hopkins) keeps the locals terrified of the trolls outside the wall that protects them, Hilda finds herself swapping places with a troll.

Her Mom is dealing with an unruly replacement baby troll named Baba, while Hilda is now a troll, trapped under the mountain with creatures who can angry and pitiless, or merely misunderstood and confused at why the humans hate them.

Hilda rages and tries to flee, and only calms down when she’s walked-through this world by sympathetic Trylla (Rachel August) and forlorn Trundle (Dino Kelly).

Increasingly frantic Mom enlists the family’s magical friends in her search, struggling to find a way “into” the mountains, chased by evil trolls, saved (literally) by the “bells” which locals use to ward off troll attacks.

Hilda’s pals Frida and David (Ameerah Falzon-Ojo, Oliver Nelson) struggle to push back the rising tide of fear and lashing-out in Trolberg, driven by troll attacks, and by prejudice and the fearmongering of Ahlberg, Mr. “Your safety is safe with me.”

Hilda is sent on mini-quests as she learns that there are both good trolls and bad ones, “just like people,” and that trolls like to hoard things either cast off from human life, or purloined from it.

On the positive side, the film has semi-buried lessons about processing one’s feelings, stepping back from any rush to judgment and mistrusting authority when it tells you things you can see with your own eyes aren’t true. Most of the protagonists are female — even the troll mother Trylla — and they’re the ones who push dilemmas towards resolutions.

The animation, as with the Annie (Animation) Award winning series, is an acquired taste. And the story, by this stage, has a clutter to it — burdened with loads of characters who do little more than add visual complexity to scenes that are, by the standards of the best animated children’s entertainment of today, crude, almost stick-figure ugly.

Comparisons to the worlds created by Hayao Miyazaki seem breathlessly generous. This never feels that thought-out or polished. “Adventure Time” seems the benchmark comparison here — an almost humorless “Adventure Time.” The whole “world” is disconnected from ours, abstracted beyond far beyond “Dragon Tales” or similarly simplistic American made children’s TV.

The French film and series “Arthur and the Minomoys” was what came to mind for me, something odd and alien and dense with characters and its own myth — European — and not particularly engaging or relatable.

Of course it’s not intended for me. But having spent a few years puzzling over what children under my roof were consuming and what they were getting out of it, I can’t say “Hilda” is anything more than a well-intentioned mixed bag of children’s entertainment.

The movie may wrap things up, but you can’t come into it without having a little taste of Hilda first. And I’m not sure even that enriches what “Hilda and the Mountain King” has to offer enough to endorse it, good intentions and Annie Awards or not.

Rating: TV-Y7

Cast: The voices of Bella Ramsey, Daisy Haggard, John Hopkins,
Ameerah Falzon-Ojo, Rachel August and Dino Kelly.

Credits: Directed by Andy Coyle, scripted by Stephanie Simpson, based on the books by Luke Pearson. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:25

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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