One of my personal biases is that I tend to be more lenient on the quality of the narrative, themes, etc. when reviewing animation, as the painstaking process of making an animated film always feels so impressive. For example, I struggle to ever have too much against Pixar’s less complex or interesting movies because of the intense amount of effort it takes to even begin to make them. Wolfwalkers is one of the most beautiful, visually engrossing films I have ever seen, but also has the audacity to have a hypnotising soundtrack, an engaging plot steeped in mythology and originality, and lovable and memorable characters. Cartoon Saloon are a studio known for quality and depth – The Breadwinner and Song of the Sea are both unique, remarkable movies – but this might just be their best yet.
Set in Ireland during the rule of the puritanical Oliver Cromwell, Wolfwalkers is a gorgeous exploration of freedom, oppression and environmentalism in a time of upheaval and strife – basically, it couldn’t be more timely. Robyn (voiced by Honor Kneafsey), the headstrong English daughter of a wolf hunter wanting to follow in her father’s footsteps, wants to explore the woods outside the city walls, insistent that she isn’t afraid of the wolves that lie within. After meeting a spritely girl named Mebh (Eva Whittaker). who lives deep in these woods with her mother, she discovers the legend of the Wolfwalkers, and soon starts to see the world through fresh eyes. As well as being an excellent showcase for some fascinating Irish folklore, this story allows for a deeper look at the colonisation of Ireland by the English in a easy to understand way that is rarely acknowledged in media, let alone media for children.
I can’t overstate just how striking and expressive Wolfwalkers is. Directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart employ loose linework in conjunction with a woodblock inspired aesthetic in warm autumnal hues to create a style both fantastically unique and international, as well as deeply rooted in its setting. While the city is impressive to behold, filled to the brim with buildings and perfectly designed characters, the forest is a visual marvel, leaving me awestruck every time Robyn re-entered. In addition, some quirky and effective visual tricks, such as frequent use of three-way split-screen and an aspect ratio changed with brushstrokes at the edge of the frame, add a sense of dynamism congruent with the energy and stakes of the story. When people talk about the potential of animation, this is what they’re referring to – I’d happily hang any frame of Wolfwalkers on my wall, but in motion, these images are pure magic.
Add in some passionate voice performances from Kneafsey, Whittaker and Sean Bean and a poignantly uplifting finale, and you have one of the most affecting and unforgettable movies in recent years, animated or otherwise, that has to be seen to be believed. Moore and Stewart have created a studio that is currently on par with Ghibli and Laika in terms of consistent quality, and I hope this film helps to make Cartoon Saloon a household name in the same way. Wolfwalkers is the standout of LFF, and I imagine it will remain that way – it’s been a day since I watched it, and I can’t wait to see it again.
Wolfwalkers plays at the London Film Festival, before playing in cinemas on October 26 before launching on Apple TV+ from December 11.
You can read more of our LFF coverage here.
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