Wolfwalkers Review TIFF 2020

The Plot

In 17th century Ireland during the height of Oliver Cromwell’s puritanical reign a hunter’s young daughter ventures out into the untamed woods and strikes up an unlikely friendship with a wild girl. Their powerful newfound bond potentially holding the key to saving them both and the magical wolf pack that protects the forest.

The Good

The Oscar nominated animation studio behind The Secret of Kells, The Breadwinner and Song Of The Sea once again deploys a stunning combination of uniquely whimsical 2d animation, excellent performances and evocative soundtrack to bring another slice of Celtic folklore magically to life on screen.

As astonishingly effective voice cast boasting the familiar sounds of Seam Bean breaths even more rich life into lusciously animated characters that live with a magic of their own. Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker are two sparkling young vocal talents that fit perfectly with the young friends from radically different worlds. Their infectious spirit and sincere affection for one another is a powerful force in giving the film immeasurable heart.

The film’s fantastical story also serves as an elegant allegory for the tension between tyrannical puritanism and a more free spirited natural order. The films historical setting is distant enough in time not to interfere with the authentically mythical aura it creates. But for those older audiences familiar with that portion of British history it does lend the film an additional layer of meaning.

The beautiful rendered and uniquely styled 2d animation has a vivid organic quality, reminiscent of the very finest offerings of Japan’s iconic Studio Ghibli. It’s a testament of the true power of this more traditional and deceivingly complex art form that it is able to capture the vibrant untamed spirit of nature in a way that few live action films are ever able to achieve.

Like most of the most timeless fables this story draws upon a deep history of mythology and the raw liberated power of nature juxtaposed fiercely against man’s frequently destructive and oppressive nature.  Wolves have long served as a common symbol of that fusion between true magic and nature, lending this story of the women who help bridge that divide a weight of mythic power.

The film is undeniably gorgeous to look at and moves with a fluid pace of brisk action and adventure. But what will likely linger with audiences most is the rich spirit of the film and the vivid dream world it so evocatively taps into.

The Bad

Perhaps for the very youngest audiences some of the film’s darker subtext will at times be a little too mature. Though they will undoubtedly enjoy its many playful joyous moments and lovely comforting visuals, they may not quite absorb the full weight of the film’s darker elements. However for older children and grownups alike the film can be richly enjoyed on several different levels.

Perhaps those most fiercely loyal to historical accuracy may find the liberties the film takes with turning Oliver Cromwell into a fairy tale villain. However the filmmakers would likely defend this as being an attempt to capture the spiritual truth of Ireland’s experience with British rule rather than a literal retelling.

The Ugly Truth

Wolfwakers is a visually enchanting fantasy adventure and a near perfect piece of family filmmaking. It has an authentic spiritual charm and poignant whimsy perhaps missing from the recent trend of endless animated sequels. It is original modern storytelling imbued with the deepest magic of the past.

Review by Russell Nelson  

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