In a time of superstition and magic, when wolves are seen as demonic and nature an evil to be tamed, a young apprentice hunter comes to Ireland with her father to wipe out the last pack. But when she saves a wild native girl, their friendship leads her to discover the world of the Wolfwalkers and transform her into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy.
I've always been a tremendous fan of animation. If there's one comment I deeply despise is the "animated films are for children". This preconceived notion is extremely dated, and honestly, quite childish. I don't even think it works within a teenage banter anymore since anime keeps growing exponentially around the world, and animated movies are reaching more and more people as time goes by. The whole "you watch cartoons, you're a baby" bullying statement to make friends laugh about someone is now decades-old. However, I still feel a bit of pity for people who believe animation can't have the same emotional impact than live-action, especially when a major studio like Pixar is known for making the most grown-up of adults cry like an infant.
In addition to this, some viewers think that the latter studio owned by Disney is the only company making decent animated flicks when they've been losing ground to other unbelievably talented people. One of my favorite animated films of all-time is Kubo and the Two Strings, a stop-motion animation work from Laika, the studio that also created Missing Link and Coraline. Cartoon Saloon is emerging as an awards-contender studio, by releasing movies such as Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner, and now Wolfwalkers. The main difference between this last company and the others is the style of animation: the "old" 2D animation that 90s kids like me grew up with.
That's precisely where I'm starting this review. Wolfwalkers' 2D animation proves once again that this style will never become "dated" or "less than" the current 3D design. Don't be mistaken, I love both styles! I'm not part of the whole 2D vs 3D discourse simply because I firmly believe both have their own benefits and limitations. 2D animation brings a sense of uniqueness and artistry to any story due to the distinct drawing from many skilled artists, but it's more limited than 3D when it comes to creating an immersive atmosphere and its respective world. However, the latter is becoming stagnated in its design structure since almost every 3D animated flick visually feels and looks the same.
So, there's no good or bad, right or wrong, better or worse when it comes to animation. I can offer dozens of examples of exceptional, gorgeous-looking, utterly superb animated flicks from both styles, as well as awful, corporate-like films that I try my hardest to forget (looking at you, The Emoji Movie). Fortunately, Wolfwalkers belongs to the first group. Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart direct an emotionally heartwarming tale with seamless execution of every single aspect. Will Collins' screenplay isn't particularly new or innovative though. It follows a somewhat generic, predictable story with key plot points that any viewer with minimum viewing experience will see coming from miles away.
However, it's a formula that, if executed properly, still delivers a rich, passionate, captivating narrative, which will always please both children and adults. Just from the premise, it's pretty clear that the message of the movie is inspired by cliches such as "don't judge people by their cover" or "our wants can steal someone else's needs", and it even approaches racial discrimination since the film deals with two different populations. Obviously, having in mind one of these "societies" is a pack of wolves, there's also a message towards deforestation and excessive animal hunting, leading thousands of species to their eventual extinction. All of these themes are handled brilliantly, and it never feels preachy.
It doesn't matter how unsurprising the story ends up being when I feel as absorbed by the characters and the animation as I did. Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker, as Robyn Goodfellowe and Mebh Óg MacTíre respectively, display phenomenal voice work, which is then elevated by the stunning, expressive, award-worthy animation. Sean Bean is also terrific as Bill Goodfellowe, Robyn's father, who basically possesses the character arc that goes through the significant change of acknowledging, understanding, and accepting an entirely different culture and its people (in this case, animals). Every character is incredibly well-written as are all dialogues, surrounded by a Celtic-inspired atmosphere, myths, and obviously, music.
Bruno Coulais and folk group Kíla developed the movie's original score, and it's undoubtedly one of my favorite soundtracks of 2020, including one of my favorite original songs ("Running with the Wolves") in one of my favorite musical sequences of the year. "Favorite" is definitely the right one-word description of how I feel about Wolfwalkers. It's one of those films I can't really point out a single flaw. Massive praise to the drawing artists who designed such a fantastic 2D world. Their work is often unappreciated and underrated (besides being underpaid), so I want to offer Cartoon Saloon my biggest thank you, and keep making excellent cinema.
I have no doubts: Wolfwalkers is, by far and so far, the best animated feature-film I've seen all year. I know the big gun from Pixar is coming up (Soul), but it will have to be an absolutely perfect movie to surpass Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart's beautifully heartwarming Celtic-inspired tale. Cartoon Saloon continues to prove that 2D animation is still capable of delivering emotionally compelling stories through gorgeous-looking, unique, artistic drawings. Despite Will Collins's generic narrative and cliche messages, every single detail is executed perfectly, without a single flaw to point out. Outstanding voice work from Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker as the well-written, captivating protagonists. However, it's Bruno Coulais and Kíla's original score that melts my heart and sends chills down my spine every time I listen to it. One of my favorite films of the year, I'd be extremely surprised with myself if it doesn't end on my Top10. Watch it with your family. It's worth it.
Cartoon Saloon, Melusine Productions, Value&Power Culture Communications, Film Fund Luxembourg, Screen Ireland, Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, Haut et Court, Canal+, RTÉ, OCS, Pôle Image Magelis, Folivari, GKIDS by Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart, Will Collins, Jericca Cleland.
Stars: Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney.
Genres: Animation, Adventure, Family, Fantasy
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