Release Date – 11th December 2020, Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 43 minutes, Directors – Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart
An English girl (Honor Kneafsey) living in 1600’s Ireland befriends a shapeshifting Wolfwalker (Eva Whittaker) while her father (Sean Bean) and the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) try to rid the woods of wolves.
Since their debut feature, 2009’s The Secret Of Kells, Irish animation studio Cartoon Caloon has proudly rooted each of their tales in folklore. Their most recent feature, Wolfwalkers, is no different. Set in 1600’s Ireland Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) is a young English girl becoming increasingly curious about the world outside of the highly guarded town in which she lives. After escaping one day she encounters Mebh (Eva Whittaker), an excitable young girl, with bright orange hair about twice the size of her, who seems to be living in the woods. Mebh is a wolfwalker, described as “half wolf, half witch, half people”. They have the ability to shapeshift from human form into that of a wolf, while also being able to heal people. Robyn and Mebh quickly form a closely bonded friendship, exploring the woods and getting to know about each other’s lives – one much freer than the other.
However, Robyn’s father’s (Sean Bean) duty is to hunt wolves, placing traps in the nearby woods to capture and kill them. Led by the Lord Protector (a truly slimy voicing from Simon McBurney) the aim is to rid the area of wolves so that the people can live in ‘peace’. McBurney’s voice for the character matches the general tone and style of the film perfectly. The Lord Protector is a true ‘boo hiss’ nasally villain, almost perfect for the film. When matched with the wonderful animation style, that looks like it’s been taken directly from a children’s book. It’s a traditional folk tale in many ways and that just adds more to the charm of the piece. This isn’t to say that it’s without its darkness. There’s certainly a deal of it in the final stages of the film, where the drama is pushed up and another side of the film is shown, yet not one that detaches you or makes you feel as if you’re watching something completely different.
Drama is scattered throughout the lightness of other scenes where the central pairing . Mebh worries about her Mum, who throughout most of the film appears to sit in a meditative sleep. Meanwhile, Robyn finds herself distanced from the Irish kids in the town, who aren’t best pleased by the presence of the English. And yet as the two glide through the woods with the pack of wolves that reside in the cave with Mebh and her Mum all these cares simply melt away. You’re caught up within the bright fantasy world that Cartoon Saloon have created. A story rich with detail, heart and charm. One so passionately told with care and knowledge that the studio proves it’s earned the label of the Irish Studio Ghibli, although after the successful streak they’ve had so far it’s highly likely that the studio will be the comparison for others in not too long.
When you throw into the mix Bruno Coulais and Kila’s fantastic world-enhancing score the piece is brought further to life and you find yourself further seated in the world. It’s bright, engaging and enjoyable. With characters that feel genuine and pushed further by the fantastical folklore tone and nature of the piece everything gels together rather nicely to create one of the best animated films of the year. This is another truly unique, original and thoroughly entertaining gem within its deeply rooted traditional folklore style from the passionate minds at Cartoon Saloon.
Filled with a traditional folklore style and a look like a children’s book, and not without its moments of darkness and emotion, there’s a great deal of detail and charm within Wolfwalkers. Caringly made and filled with heart it’s another hit from Cartoon Saloon.