HomeMovies'Wolfwalkers' Review: A Charming, Gorgeously Animated Irish Tale

‘Wolfwalkers’ Review: A Charming, Gorgeously Animated Irish Tale

Photo Credit: AppleTV+

Plot Summary:Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), a young English girl living in Kilkenny, wants to join her father (Sean Bean) on his hunt for wolves terrorizing the town. But when she meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a girl who can turn into a wolf, the two girls end up on a new path that puts them in conflict with the iron-fisted Lord Protector (Simon McBurney).

You’ve likely heard of the work of Irish studio Cartoon Saloon before — at the very least as one of the unfamiliar non-Disney or Dreamworks entrants for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. With movies like The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner, the studio is known for its stunning hand-drawn animation. Its latest film, Wolfwalkers, is certainly no exception in that department, but that’s only the beginning of this movie’s pleasures. A surprisingly affecting story and a tightly written script add up to an instant classic well worth tracking down an Apple TV account for.

It’s impossible to talk about Wolfwalkers without mentioning the gorgeous animation. Rendered in a sharp, almost geometric style, the design of every character and location is as striking as it is visually distinct. The vibrant colors of the forest are the show stealers, and every frame the movie spends there is its own work of art. Even the purposefully drab and dreary streets of Kilkenny are drawn with care and attention though, and you could easily spend the entire runtime just pausing the movie and admiring the painterly composition of every scene.

Crucially though, the art is not simply beautiful to look at but is an important piece of the storytelling. The perspective often warps like a medieval tapestry, drawing us back into the world of 1650 where the movie lives in. When Robyn is trapped in the scullery of Kilkenny’s castle, the sharp edges and geometric style are turned up to eleven, emphasizing the rigid structure the Lord Protector enforces. In contrast, the line work often becomes fuzzy and less well-defined in scenes with the wild and freedom-loving Mebh. And little sells the magic of the wolfwalker clan better than the dazzling scenes showing us a wolf’s perspective. Colorful trails of light show what they can see through their superior sense of smell, and it looks so beautiful it’s easy to see how it captivates the characters who experience it.

Were it simply a film of such surpassing beauty, it would already be worth seeing. But the story of Robyn and Mebh is a deeply moving one. It touches on many familiar themes: coming of age, nature vs civilization, colonialism, and the poisonous effects of fear, amongst other weighty topics. Yet they’re tied up in such a unique presentation that it all feels refreshingly new. Its closest comparison might be Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 classic Princess Mononoke, but even then both bring their own perspective and style to such a degree that it feels distinct rather than living in that movie’s shadow.

It helps that the script itself is so well-constructed that the film’s 103 minute runtime just flies by. The movie wastes little time establishing its characters or setting. Within minutes of any introduction we understand everything we need to about that character, giving the movie the space it needs to play out its conflicts and show us how everyone grows and changes. Plot twists and turns ultimately conform well to its children’s movie trappings, but in each moment it is easy to imagine a thousand different directions it could take, and a happy ending feels far from assured. Yet when looked back on, every plot turn is fully justified by what came before. True, the dialogue itself can be somewhat uninspired, even repetitive at times, but that’s a small criticism compared to everything it does right.

The sign of a good kids’ movie is usually that it can be enjoyed by both children and adults. Sometimes this means a basic, but heartfelt plot with lots of overt jokes for the kids and sly ones for their parents. But the best of them are those that manage to tell a mature story in an easily digestible way that doesn’t condescend to kids or bore adults. Wolfwalkers belongs solidly to that latter category, crafting a charming tale sure to delight children that leaves plenty for their parents to chew on. Whether your interest is beautiful animation or fantastic storytelling, give this one a chance and you’re sure to walk away impressed.

Wolfwalkers is now streaming on AppleTV+.

Chris Diggins
Chris Digginshttps://alittleperspective.substack.com
"Lord" Chris Diggins, "Grand Prognosticator of ThePopBreak.com" is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.

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