AHEAD OF THE PACK
The third installment in the Ireland-based Cartoon Saloon’s series of breathtakingly hand-drawn animations based on Irish folklore, Wolfwalkers, is easily the most satisfying and carefully realised animated film around. Nominated for an Oscar for best animated feature this year, it’s the story of a young girl in 17th-century Ireland who must learn to overcome her fears and those of her society to create a more sustainable way of being between people and their environment — a big theme that’s easy to get behind.
Drawn in painstaking hand-crafted 2D that evokes not only some of the visual traditions of the era in which it’s set but also nods to the visual ingenuity of 20th-century illustration and the animation styles of Cold War Eastern Europe, it’s an exceptionally detailed evocation of a solidly realised story world in which style and theme are carefully intertwined. Our heroine is Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), a tomboy raised by her wellmeaning single father, Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean), who’s tasked with protecting the town in which they live against the encroachment of seemingly bloodthirsty, fang-toothed wolf packs. In an effort to help her dad get his job done and his boss, the puritanical and coldhearted Lord Protectorate (Simon McBurney) off his back, Robyn ventures into the woods on her own, intent on killing as many nasty wolves as she and her trusty crossbow can handle. But instead of the fearsome animals she’s expecting, she meets and befriends the wild, red-haired Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a girl who’s one of the last Wolfwalkers — mythic creatures who have the ability to shape-shift between human and animal forms and who serve as a bridge between the world of animals and humans. As her friendship with Mebh deepens, Robyn is increasingly conflicted between her duty to her father and her devotion to her new-found lupine friends.
Constantly surprising in the way it manages to push the boundaries of its old-school animation to inventive and deliciously smart new effect, it ultimately offers affirmation of the magic that’s still possible in a medium characterised by flashy tricks, familiar plotting and lack of heart in the plethora of unimaginative mainstream animations.
It also delivers a heartfelt but not overly sentimental adventure that’s easy for younger and older viewers to get behind. That’s always a welcome thing, especially in times like these — but undoubtedly it’s the manner in which it does this that lifts it above the rest.