LFF 2020 ‘Wolfwalkers’ Review: Cartoon Saloon’s Best Film Yet?

Cartoon Saloon are potentially the most exciting animation studio working today. A new film from this studio is guaranteed to contain gorgeous and inventive animation, a rich world design, and characters who are lively and deeply sympathetic. There’s also often a darkness more severe and profound than other animated films. Wolfwalkers does not disappoint on any front and may just be their best work yet.

Robyn Goodfellow (Honor Kneafsey) is a young English girl who has just moved with her father, Bill (Sean Bean), to an Irish town. Bill is charged with wiping out the local wolf population by the brutal Lord Protector. But the wolves are not what they seem. They are led by a young girl Mebh Óg MacTíre (Eva Whittaker) who in her dreams can become a wolf. Robyn befriends the strange young girl, but her fondness for the wolves is not shared by the town and soon she must decide whose side she is on.

There are of course plentiful analogies to be made. The crusade against the wolves has connotations of Christianity suppressing paganism, the industrial revolution encroaching on nature, and of course England invading Ireland. It’s crucial also that the Wolfwalkers are all women whilst the English forces are mostly men. Ben’s great folly is that he doesn’t listen or try to understand his daughter. It’s clear is that the wolves represent the neglected beauty of the world. The outsiders who think differently, the old world torn down to make way for the new and the wonders that all too often lost in adulthood.

As you’d expect for Cartoon Saloon, the film is gorgeous. It’s experimental and impressionistic. Although set on the cusp of the age of reason, the art style recalls much earlier medieval aesthetics and Celtic art in particular. The way movement and light are portrayed . There is however something newly accessible about the character models. Big eyes, big grins and big expressions make this a very easy film for kids to engage with. As always, the character design ranges from adorable to terrifying but all have a beautifully vivid and believable life to them.

Wolfwalkers may be Cartoon Saloon’s most accessible and yet rich films yet. It has all the trappings of a Disney film, including the achingly beautiful music and exhilarating action sequences, but has a style that is all of it’s own. Everything that is elegant and bewitching about the studio’s previous films is here with added flare. If this isn’t the studio’s best film, then it is certainly the best entry point into their oeuvre. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

This is not only a film that families will enjoy watching together but one that they shall benefit from having done so. Aside from it’s empowering story of two young girls successfully challenging a society that doesn’t understand or appreciate them, it’s also a great testament to the power of traditional animation and classic storytelling. This is a fairy tale, the likes of which is likely to remind you of just how wonderful cinema can be.

Five Stars

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