Review by Sean Boelman
Too often the conversation around animated cinema is dominated by the major studios like Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks, but the work by smaller independent companies can be just as good, if not better. The newest film from Cartoon Saloon (The Secret of Kells), the animal adventure Wolfwalkers, is a magnificent and magical movie overflowing with creativity and authenticity.
The film tells the story of a young girl, the daughter of a wolf hunter, as she becomes friends with the half-human/half-wolf daughter of the leader of a pack being targeted by her village. A werewolf story made for a younger audience, the movie does hit a lot of familiar beats, but packs an emotional punch in a way that feels entirely natural.
Of course, there is a clear environmentalist message here about protecting wildlife and the reckless disregard which society shows towards the natural world, and while this is obviously well-intentioned, it feels like too little too late. And the film’s themes about family are absolutely heartwarming and sure to affect even the most stolid of viewers.
The movie finds a good balance between the action, sentimental elements of the storyline, and the buddy comedy elements that unite the characters. It’s a cute and enjoyable film all-around, with enough lighthearted fun to allow it to keep the attention of younger viewers but plenty of substance to interest their adult companions.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the movie is the way in which the screenplay forms a really interesting duality between the two protagonists. By forming a bond between the “civilized” and the “savage”, the writers show how it is not what divides us that we need to focus on, but rather what brings us together.
Sean Bean is the most recognizable name in the voice cast, and he voices his character with an unexpected level of nuance and compassion. The true standouts, though, are Honor Kneafsy and Eva Whittaker, both of whom give lovely turns and fit really well together in the central friendship.
Stylistically, the film is very unique because it doesn’t feel enormously polished like its mainstream contemporaries. The amount of love put into every frame is evident because of the very personal approach to animation. And the level of detail to which the filmmakers went in preserving the Irish mythology which inspired the movie is amazing.
Wolfwalkers is an absolutely gorgeous animated film. And even though it’s story is admittedly a tad on the conventional side, it’s wonderful nevertheless because of the very humanistic approach it takes to the story.
Wolfwalkers screened as a part of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival which ran September 10-19.