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Last Christmas, sometime while you either weren’t looking or were solely focused on graver matters, Netflix released what’s shaping up to be its most-watched children’s series ever, from one of the industry’s most whimsical storytellers — and if the show’s demographic-dashing storyline didn’t catch your eye the first go-round, you’re being summoned by the storyteller himself to catch on for season 2.
Trollhunters comes from Guillermo del Toro and marks both a first for the filmmaker — a bingeable creation for Netflix — and a return to form by way of a long-standing history with DreamWorks Animation, where Del Toro cut his teeth in the medium. EW can exclusively reveal that, following the successful run of the first 26 episodes, a second season of 13 episodes will arrive later this year, with production already long underway for season 2.
The show follows the adventures of Jim (Anton Yelchin, who recorded the first season before his death in June), a teenager-turned-warrior called upon by an underground civilization of trolls to defend their way of life from both humans and evil trolls alike. The returning cast includes Charlie Saxton and Lexi Medrano as Jim’s cohorts Toby and Claire, Kelsey Grammer as his troll mentor Blinky, and Clancy Brown as the series’ big bad, Gunmar.
What’s important to know about Trollhunters and its expansive world-building is that despite the show’s impending viewership pedigree, its stunning visuals shouldn’t be construed as simply for kids. As Del Toro himself tells it, Trollhunters is for kids in the same way as Pacific Rim and Hellboy were for kids — which is to say, they straddle the optics of genre in a way that much (although definitely not all) of the director’s work does.
To announce season 2, Del Toro spoke with EW about the validation of renewal, how the show will handle the loss of Yelchin, and where the series — and Del Toro himself — will go from here.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It seems like you have some news to share.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: Well, we got very good news about how many people were watching the series, but we got confirmation that the next  episodes are a go. We’ve been working on a second season for a while now because we knew that if everything went right, we could proceed. We’re going to go ahead and now continue, rather than start, because we’ve been doing it for more than a year. The reality and the beauty of this is that we can continue not only the storyline and the characters, but we have a huge swath of work from Anton that allows us to continue Anton through more than half the season.
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How did you approach the show following the loss of Anton?
From the get-go, even in the first season, we knew we wanted to preserve as much of the performance of Anton as possible, both from an artistic and a human point of view, and also simply because I think it’s a tribute to what we think he brings to the role of Jim. From the beginning when we planned the writers’ room, we set out a map of 52 episodes, and created arcs that break every 13, and those were planned four years ago. So we have been recording Kelsey Grammer, Anton, Ron Perlman, Clancy Brown, everybody involved in the series for years and years. And there was a break in the arc in the right episode that allows us to preserve all the work that Anton did that was phenomenal. At the end of recording sessions, Anton did one of the most complex episodes and then he looked at the pilot, complete, and there was a great moment in which he was able to see the work and do a really complicated episode in which he did multiple voices and we were all so proud and so close when we lost him. And now I can tell you, we’re not only going to second season, but we’re going to be able to preserve a really large part of it with Anton’s voice.
Does his passing change anything in your initial plan, or are you sticking to it?
Actually, coincidentally, we have an event in the last episode Anton did which allows us to sort of change his voice slightly, so the character stays — but we didn’t plan this. It was pure serendipity that we had that in the works. The beats of the second season have been set for years, and as of now, we have not altered or needed to alter a single beat.
Since Trollhunters is meticulously mapped out and you’ve been working closely on it for years, let me ask: what surprised you at the end of season 1 that you perhaps didn’t anticipate?
This is a series in which I am collaborating with a guy I admire tremendously, which is Marc Guggenheim, and with Rodrigo Blaas, who has been my partner in this whole adventure. I think the thing that surprised me—but it was episode by episode—was how emotional I felt about things that we had put on paper, that we had put in pencil. We had a unique endowment. I really think Trollhunters was done in a way that I have never experienced because, unlike a $150 million animated movie, we were working with TV budgets, but we said, “We have to be ambitious to look and feel like a movie. We have to be much more ambitious than our budget.” And what was really surprising is that I promised, and offered, at every creative step, to protect my team from notes and interference. I said, “This is going to be a show done by creators.” And as we started to deliver [on that promise], what I found very moving is that you ended up seeing people, seeing animators go the extra mile to animate really well. You saw cinematographers going the extra mile to light really well. We had layout and story guys going the extra mile because they knew… most of the time, the story and storyboard departments on an animated project think of the work as disposable. They know that a sequence they do is going to go through 20 incarnations. And I promised them, you’re not going to come back a month later and find out that you need to do five versions. And everybody felt this is being delivered on. We are working with freedom, so let’s go the extra mile, first time around. And it made a huge difference in the quality of the show, because our budget, monetarily, was the same, but our budget, humanly, was enormous.
Let’s talk season 2’s story. If you didn’t proceed on a second season, the cliffhanger sending Jim to the Darklands would have been brutal.
[Laughs] I’m working with one of the best producers in animation. His name is Chad Hammes, and Christina Steinberg, whom with I had worked a couple of times in the past at DreamWorks. And we said from the beginning, we have to bet that we’re going to deliver something really good, and we’re going to get the 52. So part of the thing is, we’ve been animating and blocking, and we have a much stronger second season already in the process. We made the decision based on binge-watching, you know? As we were going through the first season — which really is two seasons because it’s 26 — I started watching the animatics, three or four in a row. I would cancel my flight and stay. I would take three episodes with me. And I started naturally finding how much, at the end of every episode, I wanted to watch the next. And we said, if we can maintain that rhythm, that sort of addictive pace, through 26 episodes, we’re going to get a second season.
Is Jim in the Darklands all season long, or is it just a quick visit?
The Darklands are quite an ordeal in themselves. They are not a light walk in the park. [Laughs] They are not a one-action sequence and we go away. There’s a good [amount] in the Darklands. We have character recalls that were introduced in the first season that you didn’t know how they’d pay off, or you thought you’d knew how they pay off, and you reencounter them and go, “Oh, so this is who the mysterious lady that gives supernatural powers to Angor Rot is,” for example. She becomes quite a character in the second season. You reencounter a character I love — I won’t tell you who — but we reencounter that character now in the Darklands. We resolve a lot more of the backstory of Blinky and AAARRRGGHH!!!, for example. And of course, the Mexican dentist comes back.
Meanwhile, what will Toby and Claire get up to while Jim’s gone?
Well, the second season gives a chance for them to become Trollhunters on their own, but the two worlds are constantly linked. We find out some of the surprisingly complex politics in the world of trolls in regards to the Darklands, and the arc [of Toby and Claire] is really very beautiful in the second season. Very heroic, I would say.
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Is there a single piece of Trollhunters merchandise you hold most dear?
We created a couple characters to pitch the series to Jeffrey [Katzenberg], and they were done in 3-D, and Jeffrey gave them to me after the consumer products department was done with them, and they were really battered. They were missing a hand, a nose… they were really broken. So I bought some epoxy clay and I repaired them and repainted them in my garage. Now they are on my desk because they were always two of my favorite three-dimensional pieces when we were pitching the series. It’s AAARRRGGHH!!! with Toby in his hand, and one of my favorite characters, which is Not Enrique.
The show is unofficially tracking as Netflix’s most-watched kids’ series ever. What does that mean to you considering this is not just a project, but one of deep passion for you?
All of my life I’ve been doing animation. I did it as a teenager. That’s how I started. I started doing clay animation. I went and did this really prolonged sort of internship at DreamWorks for six or seven years, getting my footing on Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3, Megamind, Rise of the Guardians… and I really feel that it’s a world that is integral to who I am. If you know my collection, a large portion of my collection is original Disney concept art, and a large portion of my library is an animation library. Forty minutes or more of Pacific Rim was basically animation. I was directing an animated movie within that movie. And I think it’s not a side interest. I know how integral it is to who I want to be as a storyteller and the rest of my immediate future.
Do you feel pulled more towards family-friendly fare now?
I’ve done movies that I would definitely not recommend to children. [Laughs] But I’ve done movies that I wholeheartedly always thought they were for young kids. Not 7 or 8, but certainly 10 or older, like Hellboy or Pacific Rim. I really wanted them to have heroes and adventures that were un-ironic, not post-modern, and heartfelt. I think in many ways, the Charlie Hunnam character in Pacific Rim is a little bit like Jim. He’s not a complicated guy. He’s good-hearted. They don’t need to be complicated by post-modern winking or ironic satiric logic. They are really earnest and heartfelt.
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m finishing The Shape of Water, and that is not a kids’ movie at all. I would never dream of that. And I want to finish or continue other projects that are of a completely different nature. The thing is, I am not a brand. I am an acquired taste. And as such, I don’t want to be defined by what I’ve done, but what I do next.
Trollhunters season 1 is currently available to stream on Netflix.