Wolfwalkers (2020) BFI LFF Review

Wolfwalkers (2020)
Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart
Screenwriter: Will Collins
Starring: Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney

Following their critically acclaimed success with The Breadwinner back in 2017, Cartoon Saloon have brought their latest animated feature to the London Film Festival in the shape of Wolfwalkers, an Irish folk fantasy telling the story of a mystical clan that lives in the woods of Kilkenny, Ireland at the time of the English conquest led by Oliver Cromwell. In this heartfelt tale, the titular wolfwalkers are mystical beings who live in the Irish forest and lead a pack of wolves that protects their home, using their healing powers to protect other animals.

Robyn (Honor Kneafsey – Miss You Already) and her soldier father Goodfellowe (Sean Bean – Lord of the Rings), relocate to Ireland from Northern England where Goodfellowe is a guard to Cromwell and therefore in service of his mission to wipe out the last of the wolf packs from the Irish countryside. Set against the backdrop of the English invasion of Ireland, shown appropriately by the St. George’s Cross hanging from every wall, Wolfwalkers delves into darker corners than you might first expect. Told through the eyes of Robyn, whom has many complications to overcome, there are subtle hints towards the normalised female oppression of the time, from her being ordered to work as a scullery maid to her father’s voiced worries of her being caged if he is to fall in battle. This is just one of a number of themes that shines through in its contemporary relevance, Cartoon Saloon once again proving their proficiency in making timeless and equally timely work.

Told through the breathtakingly beautiful vision of directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, Wolfwalkers creates a woodblock aesthetic and executes intricate line work to form outstanding 2D animation, offering a stunning geometric design which adds to not only the beauty but also the brutality that is shown throughout the film. By the same token, the colours used are grounded in the theme of the story and are in-keeping with both the forest backdrop and the greys of an overrun settlement, whilst still holding an ethereal quality fans of the animation studio’s previous work will have come to expect. 

Whilst creating its own distinct style, the classic storytelling of Wolfwalkers reflects the work of animated films that came before it. From titles such as the classic Disney animation Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to Don Bluth animations such as The Secret of the NIMH (1982) and An American Tail (1986), Wolfwalkers is indebted to the trail such classics have blazed, though it promptly works to establish itself as a worthy peer for each of them, not only in story but in terms of visuals too.

Wolfwalkers will be remembered as being in the same realm as such animated classics for years to come, and is a pristine example of how animation can be used to highlight relevant topics whilst keeping the whimsy of the genre alive. This 2020 animation, from one of the most consistently phenomenal animation studios in the industry right now, is one that is suitable for all ages and genders; a must-watch.


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