Released: 11th December 2020
Seen: 5th April 2021
I’ve made it no secret that I do not like the Apple+ service that much. I find its layout to be subpar and its content to be so sparse that I can’t imagine paying for it at all. Honestly, I only have it because I got a few years for free and even with that I’ve still never been that bothered to use it even when they finally put an app on game consoles meaning I can actually watch their limited content on the TV.
Chances are good I won’t be reviewing much Apple+ stuff after my free usage period is over unless they get an awards nomination for something (In fact I’m fairly confident I’m only going to see Cherry and that Billie Eilish documentary by the time my usage is up because this service has almost nothing on it and shouldn’t be charging $5 bucks a month when they don’t even have half the content of a single category on Netflix!). This is all to explain why I didn’t see WolfWalkers sooner and why you’ve probably never seen it, which is a shame because it’s genuinely great.
WolfWalkers tells the story of young Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), apprentice hunter and daughter of hunter Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean). They live in the town of Kilkenny (…you bastards?) that is trying to expand its reach into the nearby woods. The problem with that is the woods has a large number of wolves, hence the need for hunters. Like all cartoon dads, Bill doesn’t want his daughter to put herself at risk but Robyn disobeys him because we need her to for the plot to happen.
Robyn goes into the woods and ends up finding a girl named Mebh Óg MacTíre (Eva Whittaker) who turns out to be a WolfWalker, AKA someone who is human when they’re awake but a wolf when they’re asleep. Mebh is staying around Kilkenny, despite the danger, because she’s waiting for her mother to return (cos for WolfWalkers to wake up, the wolf form must return to the human body, they explain this visually in the film) and ends up trying to get Robyn’s help. Of course, this is going to be hard because they have to save Mebh’s mother while Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney) Lord Protector of England (puritan) is watching over the town.
It’s kind of weird to realise that WolfWalkers will be the 5th 2D animated film I’ve reviewed, I’m old enough to remember when there was a new 2D animated film every other month and we had almost no end of great hand-drawn animation and now it’s roughly 1 in every 10 animated films that is a 2D animation. This lack of competition in the 2D space almost makes this film feel even fresher than it already did, no one else seems to be doing this anymore and WolfWalkers is not only doing it but doing it in a unique way.
The choice to have the colours escaping the line gives everything a strange fluidity, like the characters could leap off the screen at any second. Every single character is so perfectly designed that they barely even need to bother with shading, the bold colour choices for every character and the way they move like water through the frame is a delight to look at. I’ll cop to not having seen much of director Tomm Moore’s work before (this movie is the final part of his Irish Folklore trilogy) but the gorgeous imagery he creates makes me want to remedy that ASAP.
WolfWalkers does lean a tiny bit more adult than the other animated films nominated for Oscars this year but not that much more, enough that a kid could handle this with an adult nearby for some of the darker moments (and oh boy this one can get dark at times). It’s really capable of making the pack of wolves seem menacing one moment and adorable the next, a shift the film pulls off regularly with multiple characters and does so well.
Where WolfWalkers kind of flubs things is the audio, which doesn’t sound great a lot of the time. The soundtrack can often be so on the nose that it’s a bunch of singers singing the word “Wolf” over and over again, and that’s when it’s not just dead air between lines of dialogue. It’s not even close to a dealbreaker, this is a story that’s leaning more on the visuals than anything else but it just felt off to me. Even a little more ambient music or something would’ve helped just give the film a more consistent feeling.
On the whole, WolfWalkers is something new and fresh that reminds us that there is still so much that could be done with 2D animation if major companies didn’t completely abandon it. It’s an original story that feels timeless, filled with enough craft and charm to delight for multiple viewings… you know, if you keep Apple+ long enough to watch it more than once.