Courtesy of TIFF
I have a confession…I’ve never seen The Secret of the Kells. Prior to seeing Wolfwalkers, I was only vaguely familiar with the Cartoon Saloon film. Having seen Wolfwalkers, I will certainly go back and rectify my mistake. That said, from what I have seen of Kells, at least from a visual perspective, Wolfwalkers blows the doors off.
Steeped in Irish folklore, the fairy tale manages to feel familiar, yet something completely new. We’re introduced to Robyn Goodfellowe, who, along with her father, has moved from England to Ireland. Bill Goodfellowe is a hunter by trade and has arrived to assist in dispatching a large number of wolves that live in the area, who are hampering the livelihood of the nearby town, Kilkenny.
Through a chance encounter in the woods, Robyn meets Mebh, who explains that she, along with her mother, are Wolfwalkers. They wield powerful magic and when sleeping, they spend their evenings in the form of wolves, while their human bodies sleep.
We learn that Mebh’s mother has gone missing, though her body sleeps quietly in their den. Still hurting from the loss of her own mother, Robyn promises that she will help Mebh find hers. What follows is a story of friendship and family in a magical fairytale world against the backdrop of 17th century Ireland.
Wolfwalkers looks stunning. Stylistically, it looks like it came out of the pages of illustrated fairytale books I read as a child. Probably my favorite aspect is how the characters retain their sketch quality. What appear to be hand-drawn characters, rather than cel-shaded computer-generated ones, lends to the film’s gorgeous presentation. Additionally, while there are wide shots, many interactions between characters are shot up close, which creates a feeling of intimacy.
Though this film is squarely aimed at children, it strikes a good balance in how it handles mature content. It is able to remember who the primary audience is, while also delivering laugh out loud moments for both parents and children. Most importantly, the movie passes the “kid test.”
I invited my 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter to watch the movie with me, and while my son’s attention waned, my daughter was glued to the television. It’s apparent that it matters who is on screen. Even at 4, my daughter is always looking for female characters on screen, and Wolfwalkers certainly has strong and independent characters I would be happy for her to latch on to.
Comparisons with Brave are likely unavoidable, given animation, transformation, magic, and Ireland, but I will say that for my money, I preferred this to Pixar’s film. The overall tone, imagery, and performances made a better impression and the film sticks with me more.
I think it’s safe to say that fans of Cartoon Saloon’s previous works won’t be disappointed with this film. It’s filled with heart and gorgeous animation. There’s even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to The Secret of the Kells. In a world where exclusive content entices viewers to different streaming services, Apple TV Plus has a winner in Wolfwalkers, as it’s a delight for the whole family.
The Toronto International Film Festival is currently taking place and go through Saturday, September 19
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