Director Andy Coyle and executive producer Kurt Mueller talk about their new 2D animated movie special, now streaming on Netflix, that picks up where the Season 2 cliff-hanger finale of the Annie, BAFTA, and Daytime Emmy Award-winning series ‘Hilda’ left off.
Silvergate Media’s epic animated movie special, Hilda and the Mountain King, premiered globally on Netflix December 30. Based on the award-winning graphic novel series by Luke Pearson, and Hilda, the animated series they inspired, the story picks up where the show’s second season cliff-hanger finale left off.
Directed by Atomic Puppet’s Andy Coyle and produced by Silvergate Media and Mercury Filmworks, the series has won seven Annie Awards, a BAFTA Award and two Daytime Emmy Awards. In the end, Coyle and executive producer Kurt Mueller decided Hilda had big enough legs to continue its story after Season 2 with a feature-length film. Mueller says he and the team were anxious to move forward - they just weren’t sure how to do it. “We knew early on that Luke’s Mountain King novel would need to follow it,” notes Mueller, known for producing the hit preschool series Octonauts. “We just weren’t sure if it would be the beginning of Season 3 or a longer, standalone story.”
The Netflix animated series follows 11-year-old Hilda on her adventures around the walled-in city of Trolberg with her friends David and Frida, along with Hilda’s deerfox Twig and an elf named Alfur. Though initially skeptical of the big city, wilderness-loving Hilda finds there are as many magical adventures to be had, with just as many interesting creatures, in Trolberg as her beloved forests. In fact, at the end of the show’s second season, heroine Hilda wakes up to find herself in the body of a troll.
In the just released special, we find Hilda stranded in troll country with the body of a troll. Her quest to change back into her human form and reunite with her mother and friends brings her deeper into the world of trolls: their customs, their cuisine, and their legends; namely the infamous Mountain King. Meanwhile, as tensions rise between the gathering trolls and the city of Trolberg, Hilda’s mom scours the mountainside desperate to find her daughter before the conflict erupts into a full-blown war.
“I love longer format storytelling, and this kind of 2D animated fantasy adventure movie is such a fun thing to do,” says Coyle. “I wish there was more stuff like it around everywhere. Luke's script was amazing.”
Of course, with the show’s massive popularity, a third – and final – season is still underway, but the Mountain King story, Mueller believes, would be best served to audiences on its own eye-catching, streaming platter. “Mountain King is a massive story in size and scope, and it brilliantly untangles many of the show’s foundational themes and plot points, going back as far as the beginning of Season 1,” he explains. “Rather than serializing the story over three or four episodes, and having it cannibalize the season, we felt the material would be better served in one big knock-out punch of a story.”
The producer adds, “It would also benefit fans in that we could deliver the movie and resolve the cliff-hanger, far quicker than if the story was a part of the 13 episodes in Season 3’s writing and production cycle. Netflix bit on the idea a few months later based on a short plot synopsis and key artwork.”
It was Pearson’s artwork that first attracted Mueller to produce Hilda as an animated series, which first released back in 2018. Pearson had previously served as a storyboard artist on Adventure Time and Mueller says it was the artist’s “singular art style and color palette” that caught his eye. Pearson is also an executive producer on the series and was, according to Mueller, “instrumental in leading the visual adaptation process from page to screen,” drawing most of the hero characters and settings.
“We knew we had stumbled upon a priceless treasure with Luke and the books and that the 2D animation studio we worked with would need to be operating on a similarly high creative level,” recalls Mueller. “In our minds it had to be Mercury Filmworks.”
Mercury Filmworks has made a name in the realm of animated fantasies, from the 2015 series Star vs. the Forces of Evil to the more recent Centaurworld, released last year.
“We entertained no other options,” notes Mueller. “So, had Mercury passed, we would’ve been caught with our pants down. Fortunately, they immediately saw the enormous potential for storytelling and art and committed to a process of high faithfulness to Luke’s books, while also elevating every aspect of the material.”
But, as Mueller says, this is “only part of the story” of Hilda’s animated series conception, as it was the story, more than anything else, that made Mueller certain the work needed to be shared with the world on a larger scope.
“It’s still mind boggling to me how the books were still available for option when I stumbled upon them back in 2013,” he says. “Luke had created an instantly iconic, yet very real, adventure hero in Hilda and had positioned her within a deeply imagined world, a world that was emotionally grounded but also full of big fantasy elements.”
Though a unique story, Hilda shares a common theme with other recent popular animated films and series: the “big fantasy element” of trolls. From the Grammy Award-winning Trolls to Guillermo del Toro’s acclaimed Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia franchise, trolls have not only fascinated animated storytellers, but viewers as well. And while we may not be innately aware of it, Mueller believes there is something inside all of us that resonates with tales that draw us deeper into the woods, so to speak. “We’re all connected to the earth,” explains Mueller. “And troll-centric stories, and Nordic lore more broadly, are fundamentally rooted in the wild magic of nature.”
The creatures in Hilda are heavily based on Scandinavian folklore; one of the show’s biggest inspirations is “Scandinavian Folk-Lore: Illustrations of the Traditional Beliefs of the Northern Peoples” by William Alexander Craigie. And, though ancient, the stories of trolls have remained as timeless as imaginations, of both writer and fans, remain endless.
“Trolls are also ancient and primal, so when mixed with contemporary elements, and human characters and communities with modern perspectives, it’s instantly dramatic and can yield a type of storytelling that is at once as old as time and also very much of the moment. That for me is a big part of the appeal of Hilda.”
Pearson adds, “The movie has things to say about conflict, empathy, politics, family, and situations without easy solutions. It touches on a lot of themes which should feel relevant and familiar right now.”
Mueller and Pearson believe fans of Hilda will be delighted with the direction the team has taken the series with Hilda and the Mountain King, with production paying as much respect and attention to Pearson’s original work as ever. “The movie kept getting longer and longer the deeper we got into the story,” says Mueller.
And while a release date has not been announced for Season 3, Pearson says he and the team are looking forward to venturing into more magical, folklore territory as he, Mueller, Coyle, and the rest of the crew wrap up Hilda’s adventures with one final season.
“Season 3 will move on from the events of the movie and venture into some new territory,” says Pearson. “Although there will be some detours, it's a more focused, ongoing story than we've told previously, which is exciting. It will sadly be the final season, but I'm excited for people to see what we've got in store, especially since we're beyond the books, so it's all a surprise.”
He concludes, “I'd say it's less about checking in on what we've seen before, and more about exploring aspects of Hilda's world that have gone unspoken until now.”