“Wolfwalkers” has been accumulating momentum since screening in some festivals, many labeling it the best animated movie of 2020 while others claim it’s one of the best movies of the year.
In Ireland, an English hunter, Bill (Sean Bean), is ordered to get rid of the last group of wolves. His daughter, Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), is eager to help him, but things take a turn after she defies her father’s orders and encounters Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who’s a wolfwalker, a mystical person who transforms into a wolf at night.
Exploring numerous themes including colonialism, human impact on the environment, fear of the unknown, patriarchy, friendship and family, “Wolfwalkers” makes use of familiar elements but manages to create its own distinct imprint. Part of that stems from using the under appreciated style of 2D animation, accessorized with gorgeous colors and an unforgettable score and soundtrack.
“Wolfwalkers” cleverly changes its color and animation throughout to emphasize locations, mood, and symbolism. In town with Bill and Robyn, there are straight, linear shapes representing structure and order. The woods have wavy, undulating, circular shapes that hint at freedom and liberty, and during the magical, fantastical state of transformation, the film uses darker colors with charcoal-looking drawings. The vibrant, warm colors, especially during the magic sequences, are exceptional. These elements made me wish I’d seen the film in a theater.
The appealing, fantastical visuals help “Wolfwalkers” feel unique and memorable in spite of its somewhat recycled messages. “Wolfwalkers” reunites directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, who previously worked on the Oscar-nominated 2009 animated film “The Secret of Kells.” Both collaborated on the story, with a script credited to Will Collins, who worked on Moore’s 2014 Oscar-nominated film Song of the Sea. Jericca Cleland is listed as a story and script consultant.
Colonialism is a main focal point of the story. Eager to invade the woods for farming, Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) wants to extinguish the last group of wolves there, including Mebh and her family. His authoritarian attitude never fails to make an appearance, whether belittling Bill for his failed attempts to capture or kill the wolves to enforcing gender roles on young girls.
The transformation part of the story might remind some of animated films such as “Brother Bear” and “Brave” while Protector resembles Governor Ratcliffe from “Pocahontas,” a perfect match in colonizing ideals and a power-hungry personality. The voice acting is decent throughout the film. I didn’t mind seeing Bean as basically an animated Ned Stark from “Game of Thrones.”
The score and soundtrack are just incredible! Wolfwalkers has one of the best uses of songs in a sequence with “Running with the Wolves.”
But the film’s message about the dangers of fearing the unknown leaves an everlasting impact. The pack of wolves resides in that specific area of the woods for an important reason. Plus, the relationship that develops between Robyn and Mebh is a treat to watch unfold. Familial relationships and friendships advance the narrative, reminding viewers of their importance.
Overall, “Wolfwalkers” is one of my favorite animated films of 2020 and one of my favorite films in general. I try to stay away from the “M” word (masterpiece), but this film fits the criteria of being described as such. It’s a gorgeously drawn, visual spectacle with several important messages and a memorable score and soundtrack that will leave anyone howling for days.
“Wolfwalkers” is available to stream on Apple TV+.