It was around this time six years ago at the first D23 Expo when Walt Disney Pictures president Dick Cook stood in front of thousands of Disney fans to announce a deal with famed director Guillermo Del Toro for a new series of animated films under the banner “Disney Double Dare You.” These animated films would be aimed at kids, but with a much darker tone than the medium is known for. Two titles were promised that day: Trollhunters and The Haunted Mansion.
Obviously, neither film was made due to Del Toro being actively involved in The Hobbit at the time and the fact that Dick Cook was ousted from the company and his successor didn’t see the appeal of the line. I always wondered what those films would have been like and if you’re like me, you were at least casually interested to see what Disney and Del Toro would do together. Thanks to the latest Hyperion book release, we now have a clearer picture of what could have been with Trollhunters by Guillermo Del Toro and Daniel Kraus.
In 1969, the city of San Bernadino was plagued with the “milk carton epidemic,” where countless children disappeared without a trace. It suddenly came to an end when Jim Sturgess was taken right in front of his brother as they rode their bikes under a bridge. In modern times, Jim Surgess Jr. is battling high school where he is a whimpy kid with bad grades and only one friend, Tub. Their biggest problems are the school bully and their fear of girls… until one day Jim Jr. gets pulled underground into a world of disgusting trolls. Not only is his uncle still alive, but he works with a group of good trolls to help stop the bad ones from uprising again. Now Jim Jr. must face his destiny and fight alongside his uncle to finally take down the baddest troll that ever existed, Gunmar the Black.
Trollhunters definitely has its share of problems, both as a book and if this is a close translation of the screenplay, as a film as well. After setting up a great premise, it quickly loses steam as Jim Jr.’s school and home life become the main focus for too long. Once the trolls come back into play, the back-and-forth between training and failing math makes it easy to lose interest. Granted, if this was a film they could have fixed the issue with a training montage, but if you don’t care about all of the setup when Jim is at school, then it all feels forced when it pretends to be relevant at the end.
As a book, Del Toro and Kraus have aimed more at an upper-middle school/high school level. It uses some language and gross imagery that make it unappealing to younger kids. However, the two troll protagonists are more cartoony in their behavior, clearly intended to be the comedic relief in the film while neither are particularly funny in writing. And even in animation, there would have been some genuinely disturbing gross-out moments, such as trolls that can vomit out a clear sack full of their internal organs and a detached giant eyeball with a mind of its own.
As a kid, I loved reading Goosebumps and Trollhunters feels like it could have made a decent entry in that series with some major omissions and a few slight changes. But it suffers from too many chapters with not enough going on and oftentimes when action starts, it’s underwhelming and ends with little satisfaction. It was a chore to get to the end of the book and I stuck with it hoping the ending would pay off, but it was sadly predictable and dull. I think expectations were too high since Del Toro’s name was attached and it is unclear how much is him and how much is Kraus. But the bottom line is that I didn’t enjoy this book and I’m now glad that “Disney Double Dare You” fell apart before a film like this had to cary the Disney name.