3Below: Tales of Arcadia Season 1 Review: A Glorious Birth

Imagine a cantankerous old man, a bright-eyed girl with an adventurous spirit, and her inquisitive overly logical brother stroll into a town. Now imagine those characters are aliens in disguise, sprung from the wonderfully imaginative mind of Guillermo del Toro. Clear a path and count me in, wherever this otherworldly crew may be headed.

Dreamworks Animation Television’s 3Below is the next chapter in Guillermo del Toro’s Tales of Arcadia universe; three series — one yet to come — born from ideas he hatched as a child and helped nurture into something more as an adult.

Though it features different characters in the leads, 3Below plays like a close cousin to its predecessor, Trollhunters, rather than a distant relative. Like its cousin, this new chapter is a fish-out-of-water tale with well-written characters on personal journeys of self discovery. Only instead of a human entering the Heartstone Trollmarket for the first time, energy-based aliens arrive on our primitive “mud planet” for the first time.

The 3Below pilot episode flips the Trollhunters script by taking place almost primarily on an alien planet where Prince Krel (Diego Luna) and Princess Aja (Tatiana Maslany) are about to attend their royal coronation. The planet’s neon blue colors reminiscent of Tron: Legacy are a far cry from the muted mud-like color palette found in the Trollmarket. These aesthetics both help expand the Tales of Arcadia universe in a new and unique way, and provide a glorious backdrop for the coup that drives the royals, their bodyguard, and their slobbery pet into hiding.

Taking on the guise of a Latino, a girl, and a senior citizen, noteworthy recommendations from their crashed spaceship’s A.I named Mother so they will be ignored by other humans, the three aliens venture into Arcadia Oaks in search of the part needed to fix their spaceship. Numerous hijinks ensue as these outsiders try to assimilate into human culture with mixed results, while deadly bounty hunters that look like they stepped out of a Stargate are dispatched to track the royals down and terminate them.

“Glorious” is a word that will become synonymous with 3Below as its most intriguing character, the royal’s bodyguard Varvatos Vex, uses it rather frequently. Vex trusts no one on Earth and takes exception with just about anything and everything. The powerful way Nick Offerman voices this character in the third-person has me already impersonating him regularly with my kids… and they eat it up.

It’s no accident that Krel and Aja speak with heavy accents, albeit different accents. An underlying theme of 3Below is going to great lengths to seek inclusion and acceptance as an outsider — something Guillermo del Toro knows a thing or three about. More than one joke about “illegal aliens” removes a layer of subtlety, but it’s a welcome and timely message kids and adults from all walks of life should relate to on some level.

Because 3Below plays out parallel to the events of Trollhunters Season 3, one of the challenges head writer A.C. Bradley and her team faced was abiding by the predetermined Arcadia Oaks narrative and interactions between the royal Tarrons and Trollhunters characters. Playing strictly within those boundaries would have left potential crossover gold on the table. Yet, stepping outside the lines would have broken the bigger picture.

Some of the best moments in Marvel’s cinematic universe movies are when the Avengers come together and different personalities are forced to meet for the first time. To the 3Below writing team’s credit and our benefit, they came up with a plot device to explore this interplay without ripping the pre-woven Tales of Arcadia fabric in the memorable and hysterical episode, D’Aja Vu. Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell would smile and flash the solution a big thumbs up.

Where the narrative takes some unexpected and delightful turns is pulling secondary characters from Trollhunters to the forefront. Steve and Eli fans are in for a real treat as these two polar opposites find themselves on the front line of an intergalactic conflict.

The three episodes where 3Below and Trollhunters intertwine the most are this first season’s highlights. Even if Jim, Claire, Toby and their troll friends never crossed paths with a pair of quirky exchange students and their overprotective guardian, 3Below strongly stands firmly on its own legs and begs for a continuation to resolve numerous unsettled story threads.

3Below will premiere exclusively on Netflix beginning Friday, December 21st, 2018.

3Below Season 1 Review
out of 5

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