Wolfwalkers | TIFF 2020 Review

by Andrew Parker

An exciting, heartfelt, and socially conscious animated epic for the whole family, Wolfwalkers dazzles with its meshing of old and new world storytelling techniques and visuals. In terms of entertainment and emotional value, it’s on par with the How to Train Your Dragon franchise thanks to its firmly established base of myths and legends meshing with contemporary themes about growing up and learning responsibility, but visually, it’s eye candy that’s on a level of its own.

Set in Kilkenny, Ireland during the 1650s, Wolfwalkers follows the adventures of unlikely best friends Robyn (voiced by Honor Kneafsey) and Mebh (Eva Whittaker). Robyn is a budding trapper and hunter who wants to follow in the footsteps of her father (Sean Bean), a man tasked by the puritanical power structure in charge with ridding all wolves from the town. Mebh, on the other hand, is a mythical wolfwalker, a semi-feral child who can communicate with the animals and even turn into one while asleep.  After secretly trailing her dad beyond the city gates and into the forest, Robyn is shown the error of human thinking by Mebh, whose mother has been captured by the evil Lord Protector (Simon McBurney, crafting an all time frightening animated movie villain). Robyn is torn between honouring the father she idolizes and helping her new friend’s mother return to her daughter (and her human body).

Richly steeped in mythology and history (still functioning rather nicely as a metaphor for Ireland’s struggles to gain independence), the stunning and captivating nature of Wolfwalkers won’t come as too big of a surprise to anyone familiar with the work of directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart and writer Will Collins, who previously worked on underrated, but must see classics like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Wolfwalkers once again finds these talents operating at the top of their game, blending all the thrills of a theme park ride with nods to classical literature, modern notions of equality, and strong, young female characters placed front and centre. Visually, Wolfwalkers is an intoxicating blend of hand-drawn styles that make one think of watercolour paintings, storybooks, and classical Disney animation. Any frame of this film could be hung on a wall in a gallery.

In short, Wolfwalkers is everything one could want from an animated adventure, regardless of the viewer’s age. It’s the best animated film of the year thus far, and it sets the bar to almost unreachable heights.

Wolfwalkers screened as part of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. It will be available on Apple TV+ later this fall.

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