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Review: Wolfwalkers (2020)

Wolfwalkers (2020)

Directed by: Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart

Premise: An animated film. Set in medieval Ireland, a town is besieged by a pack of wolves as it expands into the nearby forest. A girl (voice of Honor Kneafsey) discovers that the pack is led by a magical wolfwalker (voice of Eva Whittaker), a human girl who shifts into the body of a wolf at night.

What Works: Part of the appeal of fantasy films is the way they liberate our imagination from the confines of reality but also their ability to tap into storytelling traditions. Wolfwalkers does both. The movie is stylistically rooted in an older aesthetic. The filmmakers employ traditional hand drawn animation and the film takes on the look of a storybook. That stylistic approach suits this Irish folktale. But Wolfwalkers is also decidedly contemporary; an independent young girl with an urge for adventure journeys into the woods to kill wolves only to discover that the authorities of her town are the real threat. Instead of clashing, the traditional and contemporary elements of Wolfwalkers complement one another. The modern sensibilities adapt the folklore for a contemporary audience while the classic look satisfies the appeals of fantasy stories. Wolfwalkers is a tale of magical transformation and the animation captures the sense of wonder and transcendence that is so often at the center of fantasy. The look of the movie is key to its success and Wolfwalkers demonstrates how classic hand drawn animation is often a superior format for the fantasy genre because it frees the filmmakers and the audience from the limitations of realism. The figurative imagery of Wolfwalkers eases our suspension of disbelief and allows us to focus on the narrative and the characters. And the story of Wolfwalkers is remarkably affecting. It reaches a level of characterization and emotional resonance that many live action movies struggle to achieve. It’s also a mature story. The heroine’s journey and her realizations about herself and her society are more complicated than what’s offered by a lot of family films and Wolfwalkers ought to challenge its youngest viewers in ways that are rewarding. The film also has a remarkable score by Bruno Coulais as well as songs from recording artists Aurora and Kila that support the fantastical qualities of the story.

What Doesn’t: The style of Wolfwalkers makes it easy to dismiss. The animation genre is dominated by Pixar and DreamWorks Animation whose work possesses a very different style. Wolfwalkers’ hand drawn look might be disregarded as unfashionable. It’s a mistake to dismiss the film and its older aesthetic suits the story it’s telling.

Bottom Line: Wolfwalkers is an exceptional work of animated moviemaking. The picture’s mix of fanciful storytelling and complex characters ought to entertain both children and older viewers. Wolfwalkers is also a reminder of the breadth and possibility of the animation genre.

Episode: #842 (March 7, 2021)