Cartoon Saloon has created another mesmerising picture with Wolfwalkers that proves that hand-drawn animation is not in the past.
It’s the mid-17th century and the Irish city of Kilkenny is occupied by Cromwell’s forces. Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) and her father Bill (Sean Bean) arrive from England. His job is to hunt down the local wolves, part of a plan to ‘tame’ what Cromwell regards as a wild country. Mebh (Eva Whittaker) is a young wolfwalker; when she sleeps, her wolf form leaves her body and roams the land. She befriends Robyn, but that friendship is tested when the lives of the wolves and wolfwalkers are threatened by the invaders.
One aspect that stands out for Wolfwalkers is the style of the animation. This is a hand-drawn feature animation and is one that is very rarely seen at this length and it is utterly beautiful. It doesn’t seem the finished product some etchings and watercolours flood into the wrong places and that is the joy of the film. This is made for people who love animation. The detail is not set to a realism nature, it feels like every image is from a children’s book and this brings a charm to it that is lost in many other animations nowadays.
There are Studio Ghibli influences here, but not enough to consider it a homage. Directors Ross Stewart and Tomm Moore have wisely chosen to allow our luscious forest to be filled with minimalistic layers that still create depth without being too distracting to the overall frame. This is a film that loves the specific medium it is using and is unashamed of that fact. This is a film that should cause a boom in the hand-drawn animation medium or at least bring back the idea that it has a place in this CGI animation world.
The thoughts have always been that CGI animation was needed to make films connect and feel more. But, animations that have the audiences hearts the most on the emotion scale do not require the animation to be a major impact to its success. No one would suggest that Watership Down would be better in the modern animation world. That all said, we could wax lyrical about the animation choices of the film for a long time, but let’s focus on the actual story for a moment.
Cartoon Saloon has been knocking it out of the park for a while now and it is a joy to see them finally get the recognition that they fully deserve. It is forgotten that this is an Academy Award nomination company and if there are any rights in this world, Wolfwalkers should pip Soul to the Best Animation Feature.
Writers Ross Stewart, Tomm Moore and Will Collins have formed a great story about friendship and environmental concerns due to the intervention of man. No one but the English occupiers wants to be rid of the wolves. They want land that they can control and as long as an animal that is running around killing their animals or causing havoc to their new resources. The wolves and by extension wolfwalkers limit the ability for the English to run the land as they wish.
The idea given that a person’s mind can alter due to a connection with another person is heart-warming. One that is brilliantly placed to assist with the next generation of audiences. Who can learn that just because their family and society believe a certain ideal that they don’t have to. That if they connect with another person’s ideals that they can follow their heart. The idea that empathy should be the focus of a person and not for them to live in fear and bigotry is a big plus towards the Wolfwalkers.
Wolfwalkers also has the advantage of not needing to have the big-name stars to help boost the film. Yes, Sean Bean is here, but he has such a distinct voice that it is perfect for the role given. The voice actors are personable and allow the audience to connect naturally to Robyn and Mebh. We want them to succeed and occasionally in animations, the actual characters get lost in the overall picture.
To bring it back to the animation in a nice tidy full circle, the characters portrayals perfectly compliment the animation. It all feels connected and it is what makes Wolfwalkers so impressive. Without a doubt, this is Cartoon Saloon’s best film and one that needs to be seen by the widest possible audience, a truly wonderful film.
To view more of our reviews as we cover the London Film Festival 2020, please have a gander below!