Directed by: Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
Written by: Will Collins
Starring: Honor Knightsly, Eva Whittaker and Sean Bean.
Cartoon Saloon’s films act as a refreshingly indie counterpart to the usual animated features produced by Disney, Dreamworks or even the non-American Aardman/Studio Ghibli. Wolfwalkers is the third film in their thematically connected but otherwise separate “Irish Folklore Trilogy”, started with The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. It acts as a good final chapter in this series and another home run for them.
In 1650 Ireland, the British Robin (Honor Knightsly) and her father Bill (Sean Bean) live in a closed off town near the forest. In the forest live a pack of wolves and two humans known as “Wolfwalkers”, who can turn into wolves when they are unconscious. Robin ends up going into the woods and befriending Mebh (Eva Whittaker), whose mother Moll (Maria Doyle Kennedy) is on a journey in wolf form to find a new home. Soon a series of circumstances happen that cause a conflict between their two communities.
The Secret of Kells was a strong foundation and Song of the Sea was a total masterpiece, so it was inevitable that Wolfwalkers would have a lot to live up to. Admittedly, it does have some niggling flaws. The story feels a bit cliched, with the general narrative feeling like a retread of Avatar, Princess Mononoke and District 9, which does take away from the engagement of the story because you will probably be distracted by thinking about those. Also, I did feel that maybe 5-10 minutes could have been trimmed just to lose some repetitiveness and mild fat. Finally, the villain, referred to as the Lord (Simon McBurney) but basically Oliver Cromwell, is a step down from the prior antagonists of the Foklore trilogy who were either non-existent or very complex. The Lord is just pure evil, with little dimension save a strong final moment.
However, those flaws are ultimately minor, as the narrative does go in many interesting directions and contains some strongly political and humanist themes that are well conveyed and universally relatable. The main characters are also fleshed out quite well, with Bill being a very complex character torn between his daughter and his duty and Robin being an extremely fun and likeable heroine. Mebh borders on annoying but overall, she is still easy to care about. Another strength is the tone, as there is no comic relief to forcefully add lightness yet the tone is also not so dark that families and children specifically couldn’t enjoy it. And finally, the Lord being pure evil does work well for the story and him being Oliver Cromwell adds historical catharsis to an otherwise fantastical story.
Wolfwalkers has most of the technical strengths of the prior Cartoon Saloon films, as the animation is breathtakingly beautiful. The storybook look is just as appealing as it has always been and the direction from Tomm Moore is intense and stylistic. Voice acting is incredibly strong, especially from the leads, as Honor, Eva and Sean give powerful performances that ask a lot of them.
Wolfwalkers sits somewhere in between The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea in the Irish Foklore Trilogy, but as a film on it’s own, it is an engaging and effective fantasy adventure that will likely entertain both kids and adults. Cartoon Saloon have more than established themselves as a Studio to watch out for.