Wolfwalkers is the latest animated feature from the award-winning studio Cartoon Saloon. Directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart team up to tell a mythical tale set in 1650 Kilkenny.
During this time, Ireland was still under the thumb of England and in a part of Kilkenny, we meet Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey) and her father Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean). Bill is a hunter of wolves and has been tasked by the Lord Protector to clear the nearby forest of the beasts. Robyn, a young woman who desperately wants to follow in her father’s footsteps is strong, whip-smart and full of that charm that instantly enamours you to her.
One fateful day Robyn heads into the forest to prove herself to her father and comes across Mebh Ó MacTíre (Eva Whittaker). This strange and wondrous girl is a wolfwalker, a mythical figure that can commune with nature and can walk as a literal wolf. Personality-wise think of Mebh as a diminutive, Irish Princess Mononoke. She’s headstrong, fun and wants to protect everything and everyone she loves.
She compliments Robyn’s smart and more reserved nature, but both young women are deeply determined. Their rapport is quite infectious. Both young actors are brilliant. Clearly bursting with enthusiasm, their performances jump off the screen.
Wolfwalkers – I’m running with the wolves tonight
Without hyperbole, I can say that Wolfwalkers is the most visually impressive film I have seen this year. The studio has pulled out all the stops to give the audience a true sense of magical wonder. For example, whenever someone “wolfwalks”, there is this stunning ritual of strands that spins around the figure and each time it happened I was awestruck. A particular third act transformation left me gobsmacked. This is due to the attention to detail the studio put into each wolfwalker transformation. Each one is unique and tailored to each individual.
Along with Mebh, is her pack of wolves that she commands and they are a feat of animation. She commands them like the moon commands the ocean, like a kind of gravity, and so they move in a wave formation. It can be terrifying, but at the same time it’s hypnotic and beautiful.
The colour palette of the film is mainly rustic to give that sense of life. The golden hues and lush greens of the forest and the magic within make it an enticing place to visit. Juxtapose this to the town where Robyn resides and humanity lives in far more muted shades. When Robyn is cleaning out the castle, all colour is drained and the colours that remain are dull browns, blacks and greys.
There is one element of colour in the town and it’s red. Whenever the Lord Protector appears the crimson colour is not far behind him. This is perfectly exemplified in his trophy room, which is draped in red with flames that are of a crimson hue.
It’s an excellent storytelling device to tell the audience that this is not someone to trifle with. Then he starts talking and confirms everything you expected of him. Simon McBurney who portrays him is clearly revelling in this resolute and almost demonic figure.
You’re in our pack now
In my opinion, Wolfwalkers is as close to perfect as a film can get. The animation, the story and the characters within it are outstanding. The score is also pivotal as the story would have lost something ineffable if it wasn’t up to snuff. The best description I can give to the score is that it is quintessential Irish magic. There is nothing like it in the world and because of that, I don’t think any other studio in any other country could make a film quite like Wolfwalkers.
I could further gush about this film but I don’t need to. If this review didn’t convince you to at least rent this film, then I don’t know what will.
I hope you see it, I hope you fall in love with it as much as I did, and I hope you see it with friends and family because I say this last line with no sense of embellishment, Wolfwalkers is this generation’s The Lion King.
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