Guillermo del Toro’s animated “Tales of Arcadia” trilogy, beginning with the award-winning “Trollhunters,” continues Dec. 21 on Netflix, with the debut of DreamWorks Animation’s “3Below.” It follows a pair of ingenious teenage aliens on the run from a coup on their home planet, with their bombastic bodyguard in tow.
“There’s a real art to doing a spin-off of any show, and it’s my personal philosophy, and I think one that Guillermo shares, that the best spin-offs actually exist on their own,” explains executive producer Marc Guggenheim, who also exec produces live-action superhero series “Arrow” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” among other shows. “The best spin-offs don’t require the mothership show to work. So, we really tried to create a world that could stand on it’s own two feet.”
“3Below” has drawn a stellar voice cast led by Tatiana Maslany as queen-in-waiting Aja, Diego Luna as her brother, king-in-waiting Krel, Nick Offerman as bodyguard Varvatos Vex, and Glenn Close as Mother, the spaceship that provides their cover. The supporting voice cast continues that who’s-who list from television, film and toons, including Nick Frost, Uzo Aduba, Cheryl Hines, Tom Kenny, Haley Atwell, Danny Trejo and Ann Dowd.
“It’s such an embarrassment of riches and a real testament to how much people want to work with Guillermo,” Guggenheim says.
Notes Luna: “Guillermo is like the wisest kid on the planet. Being able to give echo to his voice is the best thing I’ve ever felt as an actor. It’s a voice that needs to be amplified.”
And all that talent delivers in a show that, like “Trollhunters,” can be very dramatic as well as incredibly fun, but it builds quite differently than its predecessor did. The stakes are very high right off the bat, with the characters forced to run for their lives and with the fate of other characters very much in question.
“The structure of the show itself and the structure of the pilot is very, very different from ‘Trollhunters,'” explains Guggenheim. “With ‘Trollhunters,’ we’re basically following a very classic hero’s journey, whereas ‘3Below’ is a much different animal. Not just in the sense that we drop you straight into the drama pretty much immediately — I mean, you barely get to know these characters before their world is coming apart — but that world, in particular, is very intentionally and by design an alien world.”
Still, with all that drama, the fish-out-of-water circumstances give the show lots of opportunity for humor as well as social commentary. When given identities to make sure they stayed hidden, the mothership transforms them into people though to be invisible on Earth: a teenage girl, a Latino boy, and a senior citizen.
That undercurrent of social commentary was always in the creators’ minds as they were working on the show. “That was always Guillermo’s vision, and it was always the design of the show,” Guggenheim says.
Immigration has become even more of an issue now than it was when production on “3Below” first started. “Immigration has obviously always been an issue historically, but it wasn’t nearly as relevant it is right now,” Guggenheim adds. “In many ways [the show] anticipated this moment that we are living through right now. We have episodes coming up where we deal with prejudice. Not in an after school special kind of hit-you-on-the-head kind of way, but in a way that just shines a light on the issue of fitting in, and the issue of prejudice, and the issue of what does it mean to be the other.
“I grew up with television that reflected the real world and had something to say [about society.] You know, they didn’t proselytize, didn’t preach at you, but just helped put up a mirror of society, I think,” he adds. “I think that can be a very powerful thing. I’m glad [“3Below”] gets a chance to do that. With ‘3Below,’ we take some different chances and one of those chances we take is some occasional social relevance.”
The trilogy’s second chapter overlaps neatly with “Trollhunters,” creatively interweaving familiar characters from that show into the new show’s narrative while giving “3Below” its own unique identity. Throughout “3Below,” not only will the main “Trollhunters” characters (Jim, Claire, Toby, Blinky, and Aaargh) show up from time to time, but less prominent “Trollhunters” denizens will be promoted to greater roles, such as pompous high school student Steve and nerdy Eli.
“Once we sort of established the show and established the characters, then we felt like we had more license to start bringing in other characters who you’ve met from ‘Trollhunters,’ Guggenheim says. “It’s done very carefully. Steve and Eli, who were really tertiary characters, in ‘Trollhunters,’ really become major characters over the course of ‘3Below.'”
And that carryover will continue when the third chapter of the “Tales of Arcadia” trilogy, “Wizards,” debuts sometime next year.
“‘Wizards’ sort of builds on a lot of the characters and relationships that are developed in ‘3Below,’ and at the same time it has a feeling of being a little bit more like ‘Trollhunters’ season four,’ explains Guggenheim. “The hope when we get to ‘Wizards’ is, if you like ‘Trollhunters.’ you’ll love ‘Wizards.’ And if you like the character dynamics of ‘3Below,’ you’ll love ‘Wizards.’
Beyond that, Guggenheim won’t say much more about the hush-hush project, except that, “Visually, it is stunning. Just as ‘3Below’ actually raised the bar from what ‘Trollhunters’ did in terms of the visuals, ‘Wizards’ is on another level. The environments, the character design, just the sheer scope of the show is mind blowing and really, truly beautiful.”
All 13 episodes of “3Below” will be available on Netflix beginning Dec. 21. The two-part opener was co-directed by Del Toro and Rodrigo Blaas. Executive producers are Guggenheim, Blaas, and Chad Hammes.