London Film Festival 2020 – Wolfwalkers

With Soul only showing at the BFI Southbank cinema at the London Film Festival, I was worried there wouldn’t be an animation for me to watch. When I saw Cartoon Saloon’s new feature Wolfwalkers on the list, I knew immediately that I had to watch it. Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart and based on a script by Will Collins, Wolfwalkers is a hand drawn animation set in 1650 in Kilkenny, Ireland. The film follows Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), a young English girl who aspires to be a hunter and assist her father, Bill (Sean Bean) in killing the wolves that run wild in the local woods. With her trusted falcon, Merlin, at her side, Robyn encounters Mebh (Eva Whittaker) who is a wolfwalker, a girl who is human when awake and becomes a wolf when she is asleep. The film explores surface themes such as relationships between family and friends and identity in a new place but also digs deeper into topical discussions on caring for the natural environment and the oppression on Ireland by England. The result is a masterpiece that combines an array of design techniques in the animation and a story that will melt anyone’s heart. Much like fellow animation studio Studio Ghibli, Wolfwalkers is suitable for children and adults alike and is equally rewarding.

The animation style is extremely unique and contrasting between the two locations used. The busy town is structured with a neutral colour palette. A lot of greys and browns fill the landscape and the structure of the town itself feels very enclosed. There is also a heavy use of straight linework and outlining to highlight the trapped feeling of its inhabitants. This is contrasted with the more free-form approach to the woodlands which is full of swirls and curves. The initial outlining of the inhabitants of the woods and the trees and plants can be scene but the bright colouring and expressive scenery exacerbates the freedom that Robyn longs for. When seeing the world through the wolves’ eyes, the animation style is wispy and minimal. Everything in the landscape is greyscale and free-form but the living things have a particular bright aura colour that trails behind them. In an industry that mainly resorts to computer animation nowadays, its wonderful to see a studio that is revolutionising hand drawn animation in a way that is so captivating.

The characters of Robyn and Mebh are the central point to the story. Coming from completely different backgrounds, the two share a common feeling that they are alone. Robyn living in a new country and struggling to fit in under the new orders that come from her father’s new boss, the Lord Protector and Mebh being one of two wolfwalkers in the pack with the other being her mother, Moll (Marie Doyle Kennedy) who has gone missing. Robyn longs to be a hunter and free but is constrained by the sexist society that threatens to contain her whereas Mebh is an extreme example of this freedom. She is free to the point where she is lost and doesn’t know where to look for her mother. Together, the girls agree to help each other in the hopes of breaking free of the threats from the Lord Protector who hopes to burn down the forest and kill all the wolves in it.

The supporting characters are also given a fair share of screen time. Sean Bean does fantastic voice work as Bill in his signature Yorkshire accent we all know and love. Bill is a single father who is afraid of his superiors and does everything he can to protect himself and Robyn. Society has clearly knocked him down and he is unhappy with the life he has been given but keeps this from Robyn. The character arc from Bill being trapped in his own way to finding freedom is beautiful because he is so hesitant on whether he deserves that freedom and it’s such great character development. Mebh’s mother, Moll, on the other hand is not onscreen as much but she has an ethereal presence throughout the film as it is her magic that threatens the Lord Protector. Wanting her daughter to leave her when she is captured and move the pack to a new location shows her dedication to the preservation of the natural land and the safety of those in it. Also, the design for Moll and Mebh is astonishing with both donning a mass of red hair adorned with flowers and leaves.

The music in the film is breathtaking with captivating songs sung by folk group, Kíla, with a score composed by Bruno Coulais. Using instruments heard in traditional Irish folk music, the score and songs help to enhance the world and assists in setting the scene. There is also a song by Norwegian powerhouse, AURORA which is beautiful as expected. As any great score and song should, it elevates the film to create a rounded experience and it all flows perfectly with the visuals.

Thought-provoking and powerful, Wolfwalkers is a deeply impactful film that has elements of Ghibli in its morals and storytelling. The characterisation was fully rounded and the world of the film is realised to minute details. It’s a gorgeous and rewarding watch and I am so happy I made the choice to watch it. My favourite of the festival so far. I hope that Wolfwalkers continues its success into awards season as it definitely deserves to be among the Best Animated Featire category and is, so far, my favourite animation of the year so far.

Wolfwalkers will be released in the United Kingdom on 30th October so make sure you catch it.

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