‘Wizards: Tales of Arcadia’ Continues Guillermo del Toro’s Animated Epic With Great Action and Big Heart
Colorful and full of energy that bursts off the screen, “Wizards: Tales of Arcadia” finally arrives to expand a wonderful animated trilogy culled from the mind of Guillermo del Toro. One of modern cinema’s great fabulists, del Toro’s brand of fantasy meets heartfelt messaging was always perfectly suited for an animated world. “Wizards” continues the saga that began with “Trollhunters” and two seasons of “3Below,” the latter which premiered nearly four years ago. If you have not fully absorbed the first two offerings, you might find yourself quite lost in this one. Nevertheless, its overall story is a rowdy adventure. For diehard fans this is an exhilarating batch to prepare for the just announced feature film that will cap off the saga, “Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans,” which premieres in 2021.
“Wizards” essentially picks up from the second season of “3Below.” The main character remains Douxie (Colin O’Donoghue), who is a punk-styled apprentice of an armored Merlin (David Bradley). A war is still being waged across timelines involving Camelot, run by, of course, King Arthur (James Faulkner), who has an agenda against trolls, monsters and other magical creatures. The real agenda is who will control the magic now fusing the worlds of 12th century Camelot and the trolls. Returning to side with Douxie in this battle are the heroes of Arcadia Oaks, Jim (Emile Hirsch), Claire (Lexi Medrano), Toby (Charlie Saxton), and Steve (Steven Yeun). They will endure capture with trolls, including Blinky (Kelsey Grammer), Aaarrrgghh!!! (Fred Tatasciore), Dictatious (Mark Hamill), and Gunmar (Clancy Brown). They will escape Camelot’s prisons and face pursuit by Arthur, dashing knight Lancelot and even Merlin himself. Leading the standoff against Arthur is Morgana (Lena Headey), who seeks to take out the king to restore a magical balance unseated by humankind.
The world del Toro and his team crafted with “Trollhunters” and “3Below” is so rich and archaic that a recap of the plot does look like one, big scoreboard. Even aliens are thrown into the mix. Yet as pure entertainment, “Wizards” is a worthy sendoff with much fun, fireworks and visual inventiveness. For all of its overcooked plotting, the main idea wonderfully shines through. The Arthurian legends have been the subject of recent fantasy revivals, including Netflix’s own “Cursed,” which premiered just recently. But even as “Wizards” continues to combine the classic Camelot look with sci-fi designs (Merlin looks like he would be at home in a James Cameron movie), what emerges best are the ideas in the subtext. At its heart this is a show about understanding the other. Why humans and trolls can’t get along connects to a wider plot involving Merlin’s creation of an Amulet, and three surprise beings who seek to bring balance back to existence. But there is a particular spirit to the way it’s all designed. Arthur, Lancelot and the Camelot court look and talk like blonde, cocky jocks. When Lancelot removes his helmet it’s done in slow motion, to emphasize his swaying hair. Arthur is a prejudiced jerk, jailing trolls in his dungeons. From afar the trolls do have big, threatening teeth and claws, then when they start talking they sound like any repressed, frightened outsider. Family issues are also touched on, including between Morgana and Arthur. And every tyrant has a soft spot, as when Arthur has flashbacks to his long lost love, Guinevere.
As expected from the last two shows, and del Toro’s own cinematic portfolio, “Wizards” packs an armada of wondrous visuals. A skull-shaped barge will crash into a levitating Kingdom of Camelot and magical creatures will be chased by Douxie through grungy streets, blasted into other realms before our heroes are then transported to “12th century Camelot.” In the spirit of movies like “How to Train Your Dragon,” medieval designs are combined with glistening futuristic ideas. Arthur looks like both a classic medieval monarch and a futuristic warrior. Del Toro’s general love of underdogs is palpable throughout, from the trolls looking like renegades from a punk band, to Douxie proving he doesn’t have to get drinks for Merlin, or scrub his floors, forever. He is ready to prove he is as much of a wielder of magical forces.
Animation can be a vapid form of entertainment where wacky pictures are enough to keep the kids entertained. But “Wizards” goes for both entertainment and heartfelt ideas. Del Toro wants everyone, even the adults, to get something out of it. This makes it an adventure worth taking, like any great fairy tale.
“Wizards: Tales of Arcadia” begins streaming Aug. 7 on Netflix.