Wolfwalkers (2020) – Movie Review

The Joys Of Hand-Drawn Animation

There’s something timelessly endearing with hand-drawn animation. It’s one of the reasons those old Disney classics continue to hold up today and in an age of shiny, glossy CGI and live-action remakes, it can sometimes feel like the magic has been sucked out this medium.

There are, of course, some exceptions with stop-motion pictures doing an incredible job capturing a flicker of that aforementioned magic. Isle Of Dogs and Kubo and the Two Strings for instance, very much serving as great examples of this.

In the realm of hand-drawn animation though, even Japanese artists working on anime are steering away from conventional drawing techniques as a new wave of glossy CGI clashes with the old. The CGI trailer to Ghibli’s latest upcoming picture is a great example, with fans dismayed and upset about the changed focus.

Wolfwalkers feels like a breath of fresh air and a return to the golden age of animation. The latest Irish picture manages to craft a timeless, wonderfully enchanting movie that’s easily the best film Apple TV have put out to date.

That earlier mention of magic is a recurring theme in Wolfwalkers, a picture set deep in the heart of 1600’s Ireland. Magic and superstition remain constant whispers in busy town squares while a ravenous pack of wolves on the fringes of town spark fear and resentment from all who live nearby.

At the heart of this man VS nature conflict sits an innocent young girl called Robyn. English-born and an outsider herself, Robyn longs to be a proficient hunter liker her Father, Bill Goodfellowe, and heads out the city gates to hunt and show her Father what she’s made of.

Only, what Robyn finds instead is a wild native girl called Mebh whom she strikes an unlikely friendship with. As the first act progresses, Mebh reveals herself to be a wolfwalker, a girl able to transform into a wolf by night while staying as a human by day. Knowing that her Father plans to kill these wolves, Robyn is put in a difficult position and must choose between her head and her heart as time starts to run out for this pack.

In a way, the story draws some parallels to the narratives in The Fox and the Hound and Spirited Away. However, to compare this picture to either of these animations would be a disservice (and a bit of a reach too if I’m honest). The animation is absolutely sublime throughout and works beyodn the surface level to perfectly distinguish the various parallels and juxtapositions in this movie.

The forest features lots of whimsical curves, bright, vibrant colours and even a couple of montage shots too as Mebh and Robyn grow closer together. It’s a joyous location; a chance for Robyn to finally be free of the shackles cast on her by the town and somewhere she can truly embrace her true self.

When she returns home, things are very different. Greys and browns dominate the colour palette while perfectly symmetrical and harsh squared rooms feel uninviting and cold. That’s before mentioning the rhythmic, monotonous grind of chores that see all the workers in unison with their tasks.

Like a tapestry from the Middle Ages, there’s lots more than first meets the eye. Every scene is deliberately crafted to either reinforce the themes of the movie (like posters offering rewards for killing wolves) or add cultural references to the time period (public executions, the stocks etc.) This helps to breathe life into the world beyond this story and there’s a couple of neat shots that reinforce this too, as the perspective shifts to that of a two-dimensional view to mix things up.

Of course, all these juxtapositions I mentioned also feed into the larger conflict that consumes the heart of this movie. Man VS nature is nothing new in the movie world, with everything from James Cameron’s Avatar to Disney’s Pocahontas examining this conflict with large divides between right and wrong. Here, the film treads the same weary path but it’s the way the art and colours feed into these divides that make it such a cleverly written and meaningful film.

The voice acting is good all round too, with a welcome appearance from Sean Bean lending his talents to the part of Bill. That’s before mentioning the impassioned and emotional performance from Honor Kneafsey as Robyn.

While the film doesn’t showcase anything we haven’t seen before on the big screen, it does deliver it in a way that feels wholly fresh and original. The hand-drawn animation is very unique and dynamic, playing into larger themes that give the movie more meaning beyond its man VS nature conflict. This is certainly one of the best animated films of the year and a reminder that there’s still joyous magic to be had in hand-drawn animations.

  • Verdict - 8.5/10

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