Wolfwalkers review – an animated delight Come for the gorgous woodwork style drawings, stay for the well-told story.

December 11, 2020
Cole Sansom 0
Apple TV+, Film Reviews
4.5

Summary

Wolfwalkers tells the story of a young girl who discovers a secret creature living in the woods. Come for the gorgous woodwork style drawings, stay for the well-told story.

4.5

Summary

Wolfwalkers tells the story of a young girl who discovers a secret creature living in the woods. Come for the gorgous woodwork style drawings, stay for the well-told story.

In light of the avalanche of Star Wars, Marvel, and other IP-based announcements from Disney, it seems like the company is trying to distance itself from the hand-drawn animated days of yore. But just because the mouse house has left fairy tales (at least those not involving lightsabers) in the dust doesn’t mean that stories of plucky young heroines overcoming the odds with an animal pal or two are dead.

Enter Studio Saloon (who co-produced the film with Mélusine Productions), keen to plug the gap with Wolfwalkers, which feels like a spiritual successor to the studio’s previous films, The Book of Kells and Song of the Sea. Wolfwalkers, like the previous two, is rooted in Irish folklore.

Set in seventeenth-century Ireland, under the rule of devout anti-catholic (and anti-Irish) “Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell, Wolfwalkers tells the story of Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), who recently moved from England with her high-ranking father (an excellent as always Sean Bean). Mr. Goodfellowe is tasked with clearing the forests surrounding Kilkenny, a difficult task as the woods are under the constant watch of a pack of wolves.

Robyn aspires to be a brave hunter like her father, but her bloodlust is thwarted when she comes in to contact with Mebh, one of the film’s titular wolfwalkers. Mebh can switch between wolf and human form and is able to command a pack of wolves. The only catch is that when she becomes a wolf, her human form remains in stasis, which is exactly what happened to her mother, who went out searching for a new home but never returned. Mebh and the wolves are unable to move until she goes back.

The plot hinges on familiar tropes and the twists the story takes are old-hat. Wolfwalkers, to its credit, doesn’t attempt to spin the story as anything other than that. Rather, it leans into its unique telling, particularly in the verve with which the characters are brought to life via animation and dialogue. The voice acting is marvelous, but it’s the visuals that make the film shine.

Drawn in a woodblock style, the characters and scenery are an array of gorgeous detail and colors. The town is frequently shown in overhead images that make it out to be one huge rectangle. The wolves’ den is filled with spirals and specks of color. Often the screen will be fragmented. Showing the drudgery of Robyn’s work in the scullery, the image splits into repetitive rectangular segments.

“Work is prayer,” says the maid who runs the place, highlighting the Protestant (or Anglican) colonial town. Wolfwalkers associates Cromwell with modernity and the urban. In contrast, he decries the wolfwalkers as “pagan nonsense.” Allegiances change, and over the course of the film, Robyn becomes a renegade in the conflict between England and Ireland; colonist and oppressed; those who try and bend nature to their will and those who work with it. It’s a familiar theme that’s nevertheless welcome.


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