This article was originally published in the Women’s Republic.
Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers is an animated feature directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart. An acclaimed Irish animation studio with animated projects including The Secret of Kells (2009), Song of the Sea (2012), and The Breadwinner (2017). A story filled with magic and friendship, and layered with densely packed themes such as colonialism and empowerment are the reasons why Wolfwalkers is an intense and gorgeously animated film. This may be the animated feature that takes you back to the traditional hand-drawn animation style that you have been longing for.
The Wolfwalker and Her Pack
This story takes place in 1650, in a small town called Kilkenny, Ireland, occupied by the English, headed by Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney). Under the command of the Lord Protector, Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) and her father, Bill Goodfellowe, a wolf-hunter (Sean Bean), is ordered to hunt down the pack of wolves in the forest to burn it down and clear the area for farming. Robyn wants to hunt wolves with her father but he forbids her to go to the forest, orders her to stay at home and finish her chores. Unsatisfied with her tasks, Robyn disobeys her father and goes to the forest, accompanied by her falcon, Merlyn. While Robyn is trying to kill a wolf from attacking a shepherd and his flock, she accidentally kills Merlyn. She sees a young girl take Merlyn into the forest but her father orders her to go back to town.
Determined to save Merlyn, Robyn disobeys her father again, sneaks out of town, and goes to the forest. She meets a young wolf and tries to fight it but falls into a trap. The young wolf attempts to help Robyn but it accidentally bites her. After she is freed from the trap, the wolf leads her deep into the forest and transforms into the young girl that Robyn met earlier in the forest. Robyn discovers that Mebh (Eva Whittaker) is a wolfwalker, who turns into a wolf when she sleeps and has magical healing powers. Mebh explains that her mother, also a wolfwalker, Moll (Maria Doyle Kennedy) is searching for a new home for the pack to find them a safer place to live. What unfolds is a friendship that blossoms with their shared desire for freedom and independence in visual splendor.
A Different Kind of Fairy Tale
Wolfwalkers is one of the best films because it stands out for its unique art style, which is very rare to find when 3D animation projects are produced more than ever. Studios like Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar’s 3D animated features are recognizable. Similarly, Cartoon Saloon deserves a seat at the table for using different art styles in their animated features.
The directors explore other options to visualize the story world and it is done remarkably, forgoing the polished CGI visuals. The character designs, the two-dimensional town, and the forest have equally stunning visuals that are quite different than the contemporaries. The town is rendered in a two-dimensional perspective and when we see an aerial view, it looks as though the houses are stacked on top of each other. The character designs have sketchy outlines on each preliminary frame and the finished figures are drawn outside the outlines. The characters are rendered in geometric figures, smooth curves, and rough outlines. The forest is visually stunning and transforms into magical fullness with psychedelic colors that shimmer and dazzle. Breathtaking shots of shiny waterfalls, streaks of moving colors, animals moving swiftly, and figures drawn with different brushes, have a quality that has never been seen before.
Visually, Wolfwalkers keeps us hooked from beginning to end. It is evident that the work was done with a lot of care and passion and each frame speaks for itself. This animated feature is unpredictable, beautifully rendered with unfinished foregrounds and sketchy figures, but makes it up for the distinctive art style. A visual masterpiece that has the power to spark a conversation about the themes and the unique artistry of its characters and story world.