Guillermo del Toro‘s latest animated series Tales of Arcadia: 3Below is a continuation of the themes he’s explored throughout his career. A companion show to Trollhunters (they both take place in the sleepy town of Arcadia), this Dreamworks production is a fairy tale. It begins with a prince and a princess but, as with del Toro’s other works, it quickly veers into much more interesting territory. For starters, Prince Krel (voiced by Diego Luna) and Princess Aja (Orphan Black‘s Tatiana Maslany) are blue-hued aliens with four arms each. Their story begins when, like Superman’s Kalel or Disney’s Stitch, they find themselves stranded on Earth alongside their trusty royal guard Vex (Nick Offerman, in full Conan the Barbarian mood). They’ve escaped an attack on their kingdom and are hoping to lay low in this muddy planet that no one cares about. To make themselves as inconspicuous as possible, their mothership (Glenn Close) turns them into the three most invisible earth-bound figures she can muster: a Latino, a girl, and a senior citizen.
Inspired by the animated shows he watched as a kid — he mentioned Kimba the Lion, Johnny Quest, and The Amazing 3 — del Toro has created a show that’s full of heart, with no sense of irony. The show was designed and greenlit by Netflix as the second installment of the Tales of Arcadia saga, where we slowly learn that said unassuming town is not only full of trolls but aliens and later wizards. Additional voice cast includes Andy Garcia and Danny Trejo. It’s a way of putting forth what’s always guided del Toro’s work, the awareness that “we’re all really special and strange.”
Borrowing an Avatar-meets-Tron-like aesthetics out in the aliens’ home planet, 3Below will settle into the way these three fish out of water characters will adapt to living in Arcadia. That’s what makes it so relevant in 2018. “Funny enough it’s what happens to anyone who has an immigration story,” del Toro told the New York City Comic Con crowd before showing the first full episode of the show. “You can be a surgeon in your country and you can reinvent yourself driving a cab or doing something different, and you become sort of invisible. Wouldn’t it be beautiful to have that story happen to a prince and a princess and a royal body guard?”
Just as he joked at last year’s TIFF that The Shape of Water was Mexican because he’s Mexican himself, the director agreed that the concept behind 3Below (and Trollhunters) owes a lot to his point of view. The show, which as its executive producers noted, is designed for a global audience, and thus shies away from US-centric characteristics and idioms, cannot help but evoke del Toro’s cultural heritage.
“It’s an impossibility for you to deny who you are,” he told Remezcla following the panel. “Whatever you are, however you define yourself — by political belief, nationality, the food you ate, the music you listen to — all of that defines what you do. So you can have Mexican funk, Mexican reggae, Mexican waltz, and they’re still gonna be Mexican. Something is still there. If you think about it, the Mexican Norteño bands come from German polka, from the German immigrants playing polka and we went, ‘Huh we like this! Let’s talk about drug dealers and revolutionaries!’”
Luna echoed him: “In any creative process if you’re honest you can’t deny who you are. It’s the beauty of what we do: it’s like those exercises in school or in workshops where they give the same story to five people and they deliver very different shit.” The Rogue One actor is clearly thinking beyond those ideas that on-screen representation need always be so explicit. “When you are actually honest with what you want to say,” he explained, “you’re doing it just by doing it. You don’t need to carry your flag and say “YEAH! MEXICO JUST ARRIVED!” You just have to tell your story.”
As del Toro explained, even the fact that he chose to tell the story of the trolls (rather than the humans hunting them) in his previous series already showed how his own perspective on storytelling is colored by his experience. He went further, quoting a metaphysical mantra: “The deeper you hide it the more it will shine.” That, of course, carries through for better and for worse. It’s not about always needing to be exposing yourself to prove who you are (not needing a Mexican flag to show your show has a Mexican sensibility). It’s also about admitting that whatever parts of yourself you try to hide will always come through: “The person that is racist but tries to hide it, they behave racist. They may not realize it but it’s true.”
Working on a show where three aliens have to navigate a small town in the United States, del Toro doesn’t need to go far to find why 3Below might strike a cultural chord. Then again, as he said at the start of the Comic Con panel, what he’s most interested in is creating the kind of entertainment that families can watch together on the couch, with cookies and milk by their side.
DreamWorks Tales of Arcadia: 3Below premieres December 21, 2018, on Netflix.