The 400-Word Review: Wolfwalkers
By Sean Colleir
December 11, 2020
Way back in 1995, a toy cowboy came to life. As a result, no one in Hollywood uses their hands to draw anymore.
The ascent of Pixar supercharged the shift to computer animation in the feature-film business; within a decade, Disney would cease production on cel animation, and their competitors would follow suit. Yet films like the sublimely beautiful “Wolfwalkers” demonstrate there’s plenty of magic — distinct magic, in many ways — in hand-drawn animation.
The way that paintings by human hands come to life in “Wolfwalkers” and plenty of other films like it — many from overseas, as fewer and fewer American studios have bothered — is perfect for fantastic scenes, natural settings and lush environments. There’s plenty of beauty in computer-animated works, of course; the “Frozen” films are an apex of natural environments rendered digitally.
Watch “Wolfwalkers,” though, and you’ll see and feel the difference.
The particular fairy tale here is a natural fit for the form. Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) is a precocious youth and wannabe hunter; her father (Sean Bean) is charged with protecting their town from incursions by wolves displaced by deforestation. When Robyn sneaks out after her Dad one day, she stumbles onto a wolf attack and makes a startling discovery: The wolves are part of a pack with a mother-daughter pair of wolfwalkers, magical people who inhabit their human bodies during the day and lupine forms at night.
Robyn bonds with Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a wild-child wolfwalker (whose ocean of bright red hair is practically its own character). There’s trouble on the horizon, though; Mebh’s mother is missing, and the townspeople are restless. The ruthless Lord Protector (Simon McBurney; the character is a fictionalized Oliver Cromwell) is planning on burning the forest to calm the masses.
In terms of plot, “Wolfwalkers” does fall into well-trod territory: Humans have forgotten the value and mystery of nature, parents would do well to listen to their children and so on. These are the natural cliches of family fare, at once reliable (particularly for young audiences less jaded about tropes) and tiresome.
Whatever is lost in the reliance on a slightly dusty plot, however, is more than made up for in luscious color, sound and movement. “Wolfwalkers” is gorgeous — almost hypnotically so. For families, it’s likely to become a favorite; for anyone looking for something to stare at after a long day, you won’t do much better.
My Rating: 8/10
“Wolfwalkers” is streaming on Apple TV+.