Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Unusually Gorgeous Animation
The animated fantasy adventure film Wolfwalkers is directed by Tom Moore and is produced by Irish animation studio, Cartoon Saloon. Moore has also directed The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Those two films along with Wolfwalkers complete Moore and Cartoon Saloon’s Celtic/Irish folklore trilogy.
In Ireland, 1650, the last known pack of wolves terrorizes the town of Kilkenny. A hunter named Bill Goodfellowe and his daughter Robyn have come to Ireland to wipe out the wolves and earn their keep. Robyn is encouraged to clean, cook and do housewife-related duties, but is more interested in hunting with her hawk, Merlyn.
Another young girl named Mebh lives with the wolves in the forest and is what is known as a wolfwalker; she’s a girl when she’s awake and a wolf when she’s asleep. Mebh has been waiting for her mother, Moll, to return to the pack since disappearing. She lives with her mother’s human shell while her wolf counterpart remains captured by “The Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell.
The Lord Protector wants to use Goodfellowe to kill the wolves once and for all and intends to use the wolf version of Moll as a public scapegoat in an effort to prove that the wolves can be tamed. Meanwhile, Mebh and Robyn become friends despite starting off as enemies and intend to save Moll from the clutches of The Lord Protector.
Wolfwalkers has this gloriously unique aesthetic. Apart from Moore’s other works, the film has its own identity in comparison to other animated films. In other words, it’s an animated film that looks like nothing else out there. Wolfwalkers is a prime example of why people love hand-drawn animation. It might take longer in comparison to CGI these days, but the final result is so much more promising.
The animation of Wolwalkers is what makes it special. The broad lines of the character designs along with the general oversizing of adult male characters in comparison to younger, little girls is reminiscent of Genndy Tartakavsky’s style; particularly Samurai Jack. The sketchy, pencil layer seems to have been left in the majority of the frames, as well. The colors seem to utilize a similar technique with a very loose style where the colors bleed over black outlines. This probably all sounds like sloppy animation, but it’s such an unusual style that it’s gorgeously eye-catching.
The film is mostly a joy to watch, but the second half feels like it drags more than it should. The relationship between Robyn and Mebh is explored fully, but the film tends to crawl when it comes to the obstacles Robyn faces while trying to meet up with Mebh. Apart from being an unusually beautifully animated film, Wolfwalkers follows two strong female characters that are equally intriguing for different reasons.
The issue is that both Robyn and Mebh are incredibly stubborn and that hard-headed behavior finds its way into the storytelling. Robyn is rebelling against her father’s wishes the entire film, but it only seems to bother her when it’s convenient to the story. Mebh seems like an extremely independent character that leads her own pack until it’s revealed why she’s stayed in the Kilkenny forest for so long.
The rescuing of Mebh’s mother begins as motivation, but evolves into a weakness for Mebh. This all makes sense when the finale rolls around, but these events soften what were otherwise stronger characters when the audience is first introduced to them.
Wolfwalkers is loaded with jaw-dropping, hand-drawn animation and is the fascinating dose of originality we all wish Brave was. While the story is stretched a bit thin during the last 45 minutes, Wolfwalkers is still one of the most gorgeous animated films of the year. Tom Moore and Cartoon Saloon have given birth to creatively mesmerizing cinema dribbling with exquisitely animated bliss.
© 2020 Chris Sawin