Review: ‘Wolfwalkers’ beautiful Irish fairy tale is one of the best animated features of 2020

If there was once magic in this world, then progress has likely snuffed most of it out. Our relentless expansion into the spaces where Mother Nature lives destroys our ecosystems and in many ways the wonders of this world. This is the conflict in Wolfwalkers, the new AppleTV+ exclusive from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon.

It’s the mid-1600s, and the English are in Kilkenny to expand the empire and force their rule on the Irish. The city is being expanded, and the woods next door are being logged for resources to do it. The problem is the deadly pack of wolves who make the forest their home, who defend it at all costs. This is the reason Bill is in the city, a hunter by trade from Yorkshire, he lays traps in the forest to try to make it safe for the men working. What few realize is that there is something more in the forest.

One day while Bill is laying traps his daughter Robyn steals away into the forest to help and ends up running into another young girl, Mebh, who turns out to be the last of the Wolfwalkers, mystical people whose spirits become wolves while they sleep. Naturally, they become friends and naturally, Robyn ends up a wolfwalker herself.

The rest of the story is one of friendship, and sticking to one’s beliefs and principles. About being true to yourself, and doing what’s right in the moments where we’re presented with those choices. It’s not hyperbole to say that it’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen this year, both from a story perspective and from a visual one.

Robyn in the woods / Wolfwalkers

Every frame of Wolfwalkers is gorgeous. The backgrounds are swirls of light and colour that dazzle the eye have a real, magical feeling to them. This is a world you believe that people spirit walking as animals could really happen. The colour palette is beautiful from top to bottom, and the whole thing appears and drawn (complete with reference shapes appearing in character animations).

Where the film really shines is when Robyn’s spirit becomes a wolf and the art shifts to a line-work, almost chalk drawing style representing her wolf senses. The whole film is a thing so visually expressive as to leap off your screen and into your imagination. I love it utterly.

No animated film is complete without its voice cast, and Wolfwalkers is no slouch here either. The supporting cast is made up of amazing talent: Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Sean Bean all have roles, and they are all well suited. The two lead roles are played to perfection by Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker.

Cartoon Saloon’s previous three films –The Secret of Kells (2010)Song of the Sea (2014),  and The Breadwinner (2017)– were all notated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. I will be shocked Wolfwalkers does not join them in that distinction. With a heartfelt story and stunning visuals, it’s one of the best features of the year, period.

Wolfwalkers will premiere on AppleTV+ everywhere on December 11th.


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