It is no understatement to say that Wolfwalkers deserves to be near the very top of anyone’s ‘best films of 2020’ list. Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s animated fantasy touches on everything from patriarchal oppression, environmentalism, and faith in a single, beautifully interconnected tale. The already compelling story is elevated by some of the finest boundary-pushing 2D animation to grace the big screen. In a year where the entertainment landscape has been ravaged by postponements and disappointment, Wolfwalkers is a gift, an unfurling, meticulously crafted tapestry blessed with thematic and emotional depth.
In the mid-1650s, Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) and her father Bill (Sean Bean, oozing serious dad energy) travel from England to Ireland to help a town rid itself of wolves. Robyn, desperate to follow in her father’s hunting footsteps, finds herself lost in the bordering woods where she meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a wolfwalker – able to move around the forest at night as a wolf while her human body sleeps. Robyn’s friendship with Mebh lends her new perspective on the importance of saving the forest and its inhabitants, but also puts her in conflict with her father and the town’s God-fearing Lord Protector, who want to burn the forest to the ground.
The animation can evoke the earliest days of Disney, yet more beautiful and artistically distinct. Some of the camera transitions see the screen go from white to an empty sketch, and then to vivid colour, allowing viewers to appreciate the complex processes which brought Wolfwalkers to life. Brush strokes and colour contours make themselves known in every shot, be it in the luscious greenery of the forest or the cold, dying grey of the city castle. The result is a film alive with magic, bright and swirling patterns working in harmony with experimental camera work (notably splitscreens). Quite simply, Wolfwalkers is a gorgeous animation.
Through the slightest of movements, each character is bestowed with distinct personality and emotion. Robyn and Mebh’s developing camaraderie anchors the story, as does Robyn’s fracturing relationship with her father, which becomes something far more compelling than the cliched ‘controlling dad and his free-spirited daughter’ dynamic. These personal interactions serve as spaces within which to engage with Wolfwalkers’ themes; ecological concerns and western society’s relationship to the environment, the feminine qualities culturally associated with nature, and how embracing primal instincts can help us to fall back in love with the natural world. Most interestingly, it explores how colonialist ideas of civilisation are fundamentally flawed, as we see the townsfolk at their cruellest and most bestial when trying to tame the wild rather than accepting their place within nature.
Wolfwalkers is an enchanting and powerful testimony to what unbridled creativity can accomplish. A story with existential depth is coupled with artistry of the highest calibre and the mischievous sense of humour you would expect from a small, mouthy child (“we can smell you… you stink!”). The detail, talent and imagination on display are close to unparalleled. This sensational story of freedom and belief makes for not only a phenomenal family film or animation, but one of 2020’s finest cinematic achievements. Nothing will move, astound and entertain you quite like this enchanting tale.
Wolfwalkers releases on Apple TV December 11th.