Wolfwalkers is an enchanting adventure into the very heart of nature, helmed by a classic, robust narrative that tugs at the heartstrings.
Few films manage to imbue a special kind of charm, strengthened by bold storytelling and visual poetry, weaved together to create a yarn of enchanting beauty. Animated narratives with a simple, yet profound premise seem to work best, much like Studio Ghibli’s oeuvre of classics, such as Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, which twine coming-of-age tropes with culturally-relevant concerns. Cartoon Saloon, an Irish animated studio, best known for The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, has come forth with their latest creation, Wolfwalkers, which is a stunning, stirring folk animation that delves into man’s innate ties with nature. Thematically rich and visually arresting, Wolfwalkers is an enchanting adventure into the very heart of nature, helmed by a classic, robust narrative that tugs at the heartstrings.
Set in Kilkenny, Ireland, during Oliver Cromwell’s conquest of the land, Wolfwalkers zeroes in on an English-occupied town, whose populous is tasked with wiping out wolves in the surrounding forest so as to enable deforestation and agriculture. This endeavor is headed by a wolf-hunter named Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean), who is appointed by Cromwell (Simon McBurney) to carry out the deed. However, the rumored presence of Wolfwalkers – half-human, half-wolf beings with the ability to command the pack and heal with magic – complicates matters, coupled with the insistence of Goodfellowe’s daughter, Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), to go hunting herself, as she aches to join her father so as to evade loneliness in an alien city.
Defying what is expected of her, Robyn ventures out into the woods alone, which, as opposed to the town’s geometric design and boisterous ambiance, are rendered in soft, vibrant, swirling hues, etched together to create the sense of an alluring primordial haven. Above all, Robyn wishes to be free, to run with the wolves, untamed, untethered, a feeling that is intensified when she encounters Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a feral, uninhibited girl who dwells in the forest, and who also happens to be a Wolfwalker. Mebh’s presence triggers a tussle within Robyn’s heart, which is, primarily, the age-old tussle between nature and civilization, wherein the latter has historically infringed upon the sacred spaces of the former and is still an ongoing issue that warrants careful action and introspection.
What follows is a mesmerizing foray into the wild, as exemplified in Robyn and Mebh’s friendship, which is a heartrending sight to watch, as it makes one ache for the past, which is akin to a long-lost, nostalgia-tinged childhood memory. The greatest strength of Wolfwalkers lies in its unabashed celebration of the spirit of paganism, and a story deeply-entrenched in Celtic tradition and folklore, which feels timeless and contemporary despite its medieval roots. The stakes are raised when Mebh’s mother, Moll (Maria Doyle Kennedy) goes missing in her wolf form, post which the girls vow to find her, amid the looming threat of increasingly hostile townsfolk who wish to see every last wolf slain, and the duty of Robyn’s father to accomplish this very task.
These narrative conflicts are visualized in a bewitching fashion, especially with the portrayal of ‘wolf vision’ and the merging of wolf spirits bathed in stunning, golden luminescence. Wolfwalkers also utilizes sliced split screens to convey the wide range of dramatic events occurring simultaneously within the narrative, an effective choice that serves to heighten the contrast between the forest and the city. Visual poetry aside, Wolfwalkers treats magic with respect, without resorting to trite clichés surrounding power, which works well with the resolution and is refreshing to behold. It is also interesting to note that Mebh and Robyn, who are essentially children, exhibit mature emotional intelligence as opposed to the senseless tyranny imposed upon nature by the likes of Cromwell, who is a stand-in for the colonial quest of taming lands that do not belong to the colonizer, which, in spirit, are untameable.
In essence, Wolfwalkers is a cinematic experience that is one-of-a-kind, making it a must-watch for those who enjoy beautifully-crafted animated tales that brim with courage and heart. Wolfwalkers is empowering in more ways than one, as the film tackles Irish history from a revisionist perspective while transforming into a clarion-call for preserving the environment. It is wonderful to witness the intertwined nature of souls, both human and animal, and the symbiotic sanctity that springs forth from the two. Like all great art, Wolfwalkers holds the ability to enchant one and all, offering a synesthetic experience that borders on the sublime.
NEXT: Wolfwalkers Trailer: Enter A Surreal World Of Bewitching 2D Animation
Wolfwalkers is expected to release theatrically on November 13 and will be available on Apple TV+ on December 11. It is 103 minutes long and rated PG for sequences of violence, peril/scary images, along with some thematic elements.
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