By Dan Skip Allen
Tomm Moore and Cartoon Saloon have taken things back to the day of classic hand-drawn animation with their three films in the last decade: Song of the Sea, The Secret of the Kells, and Wolfwalkers, challenging the dominance of major studios like Disney and DreamWorks.
Disney has cornered the market on hand-drawn animated films for decades. They even had a renaissance in the '90s to secure themselves as the best animation studio ever. Then the age of computer animation started with Pixar. Disney eventually bought them to secure their place at the top of the animation mountain once again.
Over the past two decades, Illumination Media, Blue Sky, Studio Ghibli, Laika, and DreamWorks Animation have leveled the playing field. Cartoon Saloon hopes to take a bite out of that apple (pun intended) with their latest film Wolfwalkers, which is currently available to watch on Apple TV+.
The Secret of the Kells was the first of the Cartoon Saloon Films that came out in 2009. It's a story that takes place in the remote Irish woods, Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) prepares a fortress for an impending attack by a Viking war party. Unbeknown to Cellach, his young nephew Brendan (Evan McGuire) who has no taste for battle works secretly as an apprentice in the scriptorium of the local monastery, learning the ancient art of calligraphy. As the Vikings approach, revered illuminator Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives at the monastery and recruits Brendan to complete a series of dangerous, magical tasks. Tomm Moore and Mora Twomey directed this one from a script by Moore and Fabrice Ziolkowski.
The second film from Cartoon Saloon was Song of the Sea in 2014. An Irish youth, Ben (David Rawle), discovers that his mute sister Saoirse (Lucy O'Connell) is a selkie who must find her voice and free supernatural creatures from the spell of a Celtic goddess (Fionnula Flanagan). Directed by Moore and Written by Moore and Will Collins.
This past year, Wolfwalkers came out, making it the third film from Moore and Cartoon Saloon. In a time of superstition and magic, when wolves are seen as demonic and nature an evil to be tamed, a young apprentice hunter, Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), comes to Ireland with her father Bill Goodfellow (Sean Bean) to wipe out the last pack. But when Robyn saves a wild native girl, Mesh(Ava Whitaker), their friendship leads her to discover the world of the Wolfwalkers and transform her into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy. This one was written and directed by Moore and Ross Stewart.
Moore, the writer, director, and producer of these films is a native of Newry, Ireland. It makes sense that all his films are set in times and locations throughout Irish history. He has a lot of Irish lore to pull from to come up with these fantastic stories of his. They are set in a world of fantasy and imagination. Kids and adults of all ages can get behind these incredible movies.
As a bonus, all three of Moore's films have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It's always great when your peers honor you and your work with awards or nominations for awards. Along with Moore's films, Mora Twomey's The Breadwinner from 2017 (another Cartoon Saloon film) was also nominated for an Academy Award in the category.
As a fan of great animated films from decades past, I can say Moore and Cartoon Saloon are doing a great job bringing back this long-forgotten artform. The hand-drawn animated film is something that is an amazing achievement when done right. Cartoon Saloon and Moore should be applauded for the great films they've created and the imagination they have created on screens of all sizes through the last decade.
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