Running With The Wolfwalkers
Reading Time: 3 minutes
The award-winning Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon—the creators of “The Secret of Kells” (2009), “Song of the Sea” (2014), and “The Breadwinner” (2017)—has now made its fourth animated feature film, “Wolfwalkers.” From the beginning, this studio has used a style reminiscent of storybooks, with simple but memorable character designs, vivid colors, and emotive storytelling—a trademark that has only become more defined as it produced more animations. In its most recent film, “Wolfwalkers,” this style is especially prominent and has once again created something great.
The premise of “Wolfwalkers” is simple: a young British girl and her hunter father set out to rid an Irish town of a wolf pack that has been terrorizing their farmers and woodcutters, only for the daughter to discover a wolfwalker—a young girl able to turn into a wolf in her sleep—living in the forest. The relationship between the girl and the wolfwalker is interesting enough to make for a great story all on its own, but “Wolfwalkers” is also a piece of historical fantasy, set during the English colonization of Ireland in 1650. Cartoon Saloon has dabbled in historical fantasy before with “The Secret of Kells,” set during the Viking raid of Iona in 802 AD, but even then it was mostly based around legends arising from the event rather than the exact historical strife of the time period. In “Wolfwalkers,” they do an excellent job providing historical context without letting it dominate the story. From the Irish townspeople being put in stocks for their scornful whispering of the English guards to the British’s blind fear of and obedience toward their “Great Lord and Protector”—Oliver Cromwell, historically speaking—British colonialism acts as both the setting that sets the stage of the story and a direct influence on the characters’ actions throughout the film. Yet even with such a serious historical setting, the tone of the story manages to maintain a whimsical and warm quality.
The lighthearted nature of the film is due to its loveable characters. The main character, Robyn Goodfellowe, is portrayed as passionate, headstrong, and often impulsive, always trying her best to help her father hunt despite his insistence that she stay in town where it’s safe. Mebh, a young wolfwalker waiting for her mother to return, is mischievous and clever, often stealing food from the townspeople for the fun of it. Bill Goodfellowe, Robyn’s father, helps lighten the mood with his portrayal as an attentive, loving parent struggling to find a balance between keeping his daughter safe and allowing her to be free.
Like all of Cartoon Saloon’s animated feature films, “Wolfwalkers” is a must-see for any fan of animation. The backgrounds are like vibrant watercolor paintings and often drawn so that they look two-dimensional, like the pictures of a storybook. The coloring of the characters is often not completely inside the lines, giving them warmth and a hand-drawn style. The imagery alone is good enough that you can take a screenshot at any point and have it come out like a portrait, but the movement of the characters is beautiful all on its own. Fluid, swift, and amazingly dynamic, the character animation in this film is the best the studio has produced yet.
Once again, Cartoon Saloon has produced a great film with stunning animations and well-written characters. The premise of the story is simple but still fun and easily captivates viewers. The historical background enhances the story without dominating it, resulting in an engaging storyline that appeals to even those without an interest in history. Of the studio’s previous films, “Wolfwalkers” is most reminiscent of “Secret of Kells” for its spiral imagery, historical influence, characterization, and its overall resemblance to a storybook, even if the elements of colonialism in the background establish a more somber atmosphere. Despite this quality, “Wolfwalkers” is ultimately a family-friendly film that you can feel comfortable watching with any member of your household, regardless of age. “Wolfwalkers,” recently released on Apple TV, is an excellent pick for a film to watch over the holidays.