The animated film deftly captures what makes the show great
It’s hard to imagine a scenario more terrifying than rescuing your child from certain danger, then waking up the next morning to find a stranger’s child sleeping in her bed. That’s exactly what happens 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 cliffhanger resolved.
At the start of Hilda and the Mountain King, the film that caps the series’ second season, Hilda has become a troll, while Baba, the changeling troll-baby left in her place, has become a human toddler. Baba’s mother used troll magic to swap the two, wanting to provide her daughter with the comfortable life of a human. Hilda wakes up in the trolls’ cave dwelling, with a body made of stone. Baba wakes up in Hilda’s bed, a great shock to Hilda’s mother, who spends the rest of the episode desperately searching for her daughter. The film is an excellent feature-length Hilda episode, but the 84-minute runtime also allows it to raise the stakes of the low-key series appropriately, tackling some of the enduring mysteries at the core of Trolberg.
It’s hard not to miss the familiar galavanting-around-Trolberg antics that a full 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 addressing the mysteries around it. The film draws on the familiar rhythm of a Hilda episode — Hilda has gotten into trouble, and has to use her bravery and cunning to work out a solution. The movie focuses on a question that’s always underpinned the series: why trolls live around the city of Trolberg, in spite of humanity’s obvious antagonism against them.
Hilda has always had an interest in trolls, starting with the series pilot, where she sketches one in her forest home. After moving to Trolberg, she increasingly advocates for trolls’ well-being, pushing back against the taskforce that “protects” the city. Troll-human tensions have ratcheted up slowly throughout Hilda’s two seasons, whether the conflicts are humming in the background, or taking center stage as the subject of an episode.
As a human, Hilda pushed to ask questions about things the city residents took as givens — primarily, why Trolberg uses bells to “protect” their residents, when they obviously cause trolls so much pain. In her new troll form, Hilda gets a firsthand understanding of the grievances trolls have, and the variation — in physical form and beliefs — within their community. Some of these divergences are goofy, as many of them collect specific items like “soft bedding” or “teapots and mugs.” Some of them are terrifying, as in the trolls who wish to collectively destroy Trolberg, vs. those who simply wish to live undisturbed. She also learns that living as a troll is genuinely fun. They’re 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 an explorer, these are all qualities Hilda prizes.
It also turns out trolls and humans have commonalities: Both the troll mother and Hilda’s mom wish to reunite with their daughters, even though the troll-mother made the swap in the first place. Much of the film hinges on this storytelling parallel, the “finding similarities” trope that’s common in children’s media, and which often creates the conditions for a simple, positive resolution. But where children’s media often uses this idea to create a false sense of equality between two factions — even if one of them is the aggressor and oppressor — Mountain King pulls no punches. It refuses this false dichotomy by making it clear humans have caused trolls very real suffering. It shows trolls as a broader community that deserves compassion, even as some of them have responded to humans with violence. Those humans goaded the trolls into violent reprisals, taking advantage of them in order to respond with further harm.
Hilda is still a kids’ show, and Hilda still does save the day. Her friends Frida and David spend much of the movie fighting a campaign that seeks to portray trolls as threatening and violent, in order to justify lethal force against them. The heft and gravitas of the story round it out to a solid wrap for season 2, especially in its payoff to the groundwork laid previously: 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 plotting, the movie loses a bit of the show’s spontaneity and unpredictability. Still, it’s short and sweet.
It’s hard not to miss the goofier, out-of-pocket antics of regular episodes of Hilda, which not only offer that variety, but also considerably lighten the mood. Mountain King has its jokes and moments of levity, but its overall tone is more consistently dark, veering briefly into kid-friendly horror. (Though the entire film is arguably a kid’s horror story — being separated from a primary caretaker can be a terrifying prospect for a child, as Disney has long recognized.)
More than anything, Hilda and the Mountain King sets the stage for Hilda’s third season, given the potential of its world. The film opens the door to dozens of new questions and adventures. How will the townspeople — who aren’t particularly known for their open-mindedness — react to the changes that take place in this movie? What adventures will Hilda and her friends get up to next? It all leaves me itching for more ensemble adventures, more Sparrow Scout badges, more wild creatures to meet, and ultimately, more space spent in this world I’ve come to love.
Hilda and the Mountain King is now streaming on Netflix.