Animation feature film “Wolfwalkers” is a sheer pleasure for your eyes. As a cell animation film full of mood and details, the film is packed with numerous gorgeous moments to dazzle and impress you in addition to being quite engaging in terms of story and characters, and the overall result is one of the best animation films of this year in my inconsequential opinion.
The movie is directed by Ross Stewart and Tomm Moore, who previously delighted us with his two wonderful cell animation feature films “The Secret of Kells” (2009) and “Song of the Sea” (2014). Like these good animation films, “Wolfwalker” is inspired a lot by the cultural history and background of Ireland as shown from its distinctive cell animation style reminiscent of those ancient murals, and one of the main pleasures in the film comes from how it deftly mixes its cultural elements into its story and characters.
The story is mainly set in the town of Kilkenny, Ireland in 1650. The town has been occupied by Lord Protector of England (voiced by Simon McBurney) and his army for years, and he recently ordered local woodcutters to cut the trees of a big forest outside the town, but the forest is filled with a bunch of wolves, which often threaten those woodcutters who simply try to do their job as ordered by their heartless ruler.
For exterminating these wolves once for all, Lord Protector already hired a hunter named Bill Goodfellowe (voiced by Sean Bean), but Goodfellowe has not got much result yet despite his skill and experience, and he is often more concerned about his only daughter Robyn (voiced by Honor Kneafsey), a little plucky girl who is more interested in hunting than taking care of their current staying place. Along with her pet falcon Merlin, she is eager to go outside and help her father, but her father, who has genuinely cared about his daughter’s welfare especially since his wife’s recent death, adamantly insists that she should stay at their current home instead.
On one day, Robyn manages to sneak out of the town while her father is busy with his work in the forest as usual, but, of course, she soon finds herself in a situation way over her head, and that is how she comes to have the first encounter with a strange little girl who seems to be living in the forest in addition to being quite friendly with the wolves in the forest. Her name is Mebh (voiced by Eva Whittaker), and, when Robyn later goes into the forest again, it turns out that Mebh is a ‘wolfwalker’. She can freely communicate with those wolves in the forest, and, above all, her spirit is lifted from her body and then is transformed into a wolf whenever she sleeps.
Not so surprisingly, it does not take much time for Mebh and Robyn to befriend each other, and Mebh gladly introduces Robyn to her mother, who is also a wolfwalker just like her daughter. Well aware of the threat coming from Lord Protector and his people, Mebh’s mother has tried to find a safe place for her daughter and wolves, but she has been in deep sleep after her spirit left to somewhere as a wolf, and Mebh has been desperately waiting for her mother’s return.
As spending more time with Mebh, Robyn comes to care more about Mebh, and she is certainly willing to help Mebh as much as she can, but the circumstance seems to be pretty daunting to say the least. While her father does not listen to her much in addition to being not so pleased to learn of how often she has been outside the town, Lord Protector does not tolerate her feisty spirit at all, and he promptly sends her to where he thinks she should work.
The situation becomes more serious and complicated than before when Robyn gets herself involved in Mebh’s problem a lot more than expected, but the film never loses its sense of fun and excitement as steadily building up narrative momentum as required. While there are a series of gorgeous visual moments which will impress you a lot for various colorful details on the screen, the film also provides several good action sequences, and I also particularly like how a certain kind of sense is visually rendered for us during a number of key scenes in the film.
Although the story and characters of the film are mostly as broad and simple as its animation style, the screenplay by Will Collins, which is based on the story by Moore and Stewart, keeps engaging us as never overlooking what is being at stake for its main characters. While the relationship between our two young heroines is convincing in its dramatic development along the plot, there is also some poignancy in the relationship between Robyn and her father, and the story even shows some understanding even to Lord Protector, who has his own integrity although he is the sole evil person of the story.
The voice cast members of the film are excellent on the whole. While young performers Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker click well with each other throughout the film, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, and Maria Doyle Kennedy are well-cast in their respective roles, and McBurney’s maliciously unflappable voice performance reminds me again that animation films are usually as good as their villain characters.
In conclusion, “Wolfwalkers”, which was released on Apple TV+ a few weeks ago, is an enchanting work to be admired and appreciated for many good reasons, and its mesmerizing beauty and imagination still linger on my head even at this point. Like any other wonderful animation films out there, this is for not only young audiences but also adult audiences, and I strongly recommend you not to miss this wondrous piece of work.
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