A Shakespearen tale that serves as both a victory for the revitalization of 2D animation and a poetic eco fable of Celtic origin.
By James Reid, Contributing Writer and Critic
Wolfwalkers is perhaps one of my favorite animated films of all time.The film is produced by an Irish company called Cartoon Saloon. It is the embodiment of the little guy and what they can achieve. The company in my opinion might be making its way into the pantheon of modern animation studios with even such a limited catalog of work. I would definitely see anything they made going forward..
The company has previously been nominated for three oscars. The first time was for Secret of Kells which was released in 2009. It lost the Oscar to Pete Docter's Up, which gave Disney one victory over Cartoon Saloon. Pete Docter is about to win another Oscar for Soul. Despite the cultural outrage from some progressive film voices, this film will lose despite being a strong contender. The second major film they got nominated for was Song of the Sea which was released in 2014. The film lost the Oscar to the animated Disney and Marvel superhero film Big Hero Six. They put them down zero to two. The third defeat came when The Breadwinner lost to the Mexican tale, Coco. As you can see Disney has a stranglehold over this category. That being said this film outshines Soul and any other animated feature that was released this year.
The film plays out like an eco fable, finding itself grounded in deep celtic roots. It becomes a story of man's hatred of nature and the specific target of wolves. It is in this struggle between man and wolf that a girl comes of age and finds herself growing as a person. In addition to the coming of age the film sees the girls father grow himself. He is a loving father voiced by Sean Bean. This is perhaps the best vocal performance of the year behind Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner in Soul. He brings pain to the role. Capturing the pain of raising a daughter without her mother in a beautifully profound way.
I really love how good films can be when they succeed in capturing the essence of Shakespeare without diving into the dated nature of his work. This film is a platonic version of Romeo and Juliet which plays like that only with female children finding friendship instead of love. It wants us to find joy in watching these two children find something deeper in themselves through each other.
It is beautifully animated with the scenes of wolves hearing being portrayed like a sort of echolocation, the colors changing to reflect how the wolves see without their actual vision. The transfer of imagery is also marvelous as the wolves blend together in moments to show the nature of a pack.
Up until this point I believe Studio Ghibli had the monopoly on capturing the beauty of 2D drawn animation in a world where CGI animation is what sells. The film never feels jarring its visuals reflects the art of drawing in a way that drawing is expected to look. The more I saw of the animation the more I wondered why the industry doesn't focus on going back to that style. It truly is wonderful.
I will say this. We as a society have been conditioned to grasp firmly to nostalgia and things we feel familiar with. A lot of people out there might see this as some pretentious foreign property that doesn't view film as a medium of entertainment and instead wants to preach some deep message that people shouldn't care about. Like all good animation this rings false as it is a kids film that is made with adults in mind. You as a 40 year old will love it as much as your 10 year old. Or if you are a student who still dabbles in animation you will also love it.
The soundtrack and score also add a lot to the film. My favorite moment of cinema in 2020 is a nocturnal set piece that is set to the beautiful Running with the Wolves by Aurora. It was during that moment that I knew this was going to be my favorite film of the year. I would like to add the film never feels like something that Apple would make and a lot of streaming captures the direct to TV feel of streaming.
Also the final climax is as well done and intense as anything done in animation. It feels like something that classic era Disney did down to the final stand-off between man and beast. I'd even say that as animation the flow was done so well that you actually believed an animated movie could have high stakes. The flames in the scene provoke fear and anxiety, the isolation of a family from each other as they are desperate to see each other survive.
The film really is my favorite of the year and if you can find it somewhere else other than Appletv+ I would suggest downloading or watching it. Seldom has a work from someone other than The House of Mouse felt so pivotal and important for the medium of animation.
I give it a 5/5 wolves.