Wolfwalkers is an enchanting traditionally hand-drawn animated feature that puts a unique twist on fairy tale storytelling by inserting the real-world consequences of reckless environmental destruction into a colorful and dazzling adventure that celebrates family and friendship. It’s a lot of themes to take in, but much of the film’s visual beauty and narrative power comes through the illustrative artwork along with the stellar voice casting that will pull you into the world like a really good bedtime story.
Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart directorial feature, using a script written by Will Collins, centers on Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), a feisty apprentice hunter, who journeys with Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean), also a hunter, to a small remote village in Ireland. But the only way for this village to expand is to destroy the forest that surrounds them. However, this task is difficult as ferocious wolves protect the woods as if they were one of the packs.
While exploring these forbidden woods, Robyn befriends a free-spirited girl, Mebh MacTíre, a member of a mysterious tribe rumored to transform into wolves by night. As they search for Mebh’s mother, Robyn uncovers a secret about the wolves that will change how she views one of the most beautiful creatures of the forest and will risk everything to protect the very thing that her father has been tasked to destroy.
Moore and Stewart don’t make any effort to shy away from visualizing the real-world horrors of colonization and deforestation through the artistry of woodblock aesthetics and expressive illustrations. It even dares to address the dangers of religious zealotry, a lot of which comes through Oliver Cromwell’s (Simon McBurney) biblical overtones. All of that is scarier than any moment where snarling wolves bares their fangs.
But it’s not entirely frightening as the Wolfwalkers’s pleasing aesthetics also creates beautiful imagery that is very moving. When our protagonists explore the surrounding world in their wolf forms, they navigate by visualizing smell. Seeing this world through this kind of perspective with its use of a bright color palette makes the film feel like an illustrative storybook coming alive.
What’s more, the silly moments help bring out Wolfwalkers’s storybook, and fairy tale feel. Robyn and Mebh’s friendship is that strange blend of simple and complicated. It can be playful when the two are getting to know each other while also going out on adventures. But it can also be melancholic, as Robyn tries to protect Mebh from a village whose belief system is entirely based on wolves being evil. And Robyn and Bill’s relationship comes with its own complications as she is all that he as, so he will do anything to protect her.
Wolfwalkers walks that fine line of being lighthearted and boarder line dark and somber. Though it has some heavy themes, the film’s delightful use of colors is enchanting and draws you into the world like one of your favorite childhood books. Its charming characters take us on a one of a kind adventure that is exciting and also engaging but never not engaging. If anything, all of Wolfwalker’s beauty in its art and storytelling is in its simplicity.
Wolfwalkers in limited theaters on November 13, 2020. Streams on AppleTV+ December 11.