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Apple and Cartoon Saloon’s collaboration proves to deliver the best film from each yet

Apple’s foray into film has been timid so far, it has failed to discover a specific theme it wants its films to have, though this is normal for a fledgling studio. After producing some adult-oriented content such as the series The Morning Show (2019-), Ted Lasso (2020-), and the films Greyhound (2020) and On the Rocks (2020), Apple has been making some strides in family entertainment. It has started producing some family-friendly documentary-series such as Tiny World (2020-), Earth at Night in Color (2020-), and with the holiday season it has been taking advantage of a distribution deal of the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). However, the tech/movie company’s biggest step towards becoming a serious destination for family and prestige film entertainment is with their newest animated film: Wolfwalkers (2020).

Wolfwalkers is the latest film from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon. The film takes place in 1650 Ireland, in the town of Kilkenny. The English have moved in with their imperial force, and we focus on a soldier, Bill (Sean Bean) and his daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey). Bill has been tasked with ridding the nearby woods of wolves that terrify villagers and eat livestock. Robyn is keen to help her father but is constantly reminded of performing her womanly duties instead. One day, as she escapes the town’s walls to follow her father and help in his hunt, she becomes entangled with a mythical creature from Irish folklore: a Wolfwalker. These are normal people that have been given powers of controlling, communicating, and even transforming into wolves, becoming guardians of the forest. Robyn meets a wolfwalker in the shape of the young and feisty red-maned Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who shows Robyn that wolves might not be the real threat to the people of Kilkenny.

As with other films from Cartoon Saloon, specifically the critical darlings Song of the Sea (2014) and The Secret of Kells (2009), there is a use of Irish mythology in order to tell family-friendly story. The film is, in fact, co-directed by one of the filmmakers of those two former films: Tomm Moore. Both those previous films used their setting to produce some original adventures and stakes for viewers, as well as introducing many to an unknown Irish culture. Moore has also used these settings to explore more personal matters such as grief or coming-of-age tales. The results have always been sweet and profound films that always left you with a fuzzy feeling. With Wolfwalkers Moore and his new co-director Ross Stewart, have chosen to focus on much darker material, ripe for these more serious and dark times.

Wolfwalkers feels like the most mature film Cartoon Saloon has produced, even more than the Afghan-set The Breadwinner (2017). There are clear choices to explore the more violent and controversial parts of Irish history including English imperialism and religious and ideological indoctrination. Moore and Stewart are able to center the motivations of their villains and obstructionists in the story as not malice, but rather fear. The dilemma for many of these character is making a choice between the unknown and violent and oppressive options. It proves to be an incredibly clear and transient way of exploring the current sentiments of hatred and fear rippling through the present in the shape of politics, racism, and general intolerance. Wolfwalkers is able to walk a rather impressive fine line of commenting and informing about the past while making clear echoes and comments of the current happenings of the present. Moore and Stewart are also careful to not paint many of the characters as simplistically good or bad, but rather flawed and conflicted. This demonstrates that there can be an intolerance from both sides of the conflict central to Wolfwalkers, evidencing that the reach and compromise must be from both sides of a confrontation in order to have some proper healing. This certainly echoed in certain situations regarding many divisions today, the participants of which would benefit from watching some of Wolfwalkers. As with many recent family films, there is a further encouragement of complex and autonomous female characters. I was rather pleased with how Moore and Stewart composed and pondered on questions of female imprisonment and societal roles using Robyn and her 17th century British expectations. All of these subjects are presented and explained in non-preachy and, more importantly, very accessible manner, so that whether you are dissecting it in an academic matter of not, the underlying message seeps into you.

Aside from the societal commentary that Wolfwalkers is able to capably transmit, it is also a masterful composition narratively. As J.R.R. Tokien did with much of his work in “Lord of the Rings” Wolfwalkers uses the backdrop of fantasy and magic to comment on the preservation and dangers that industrialism have on nature. The rooting of the story on this purity and power that nature can provide proves to be a key component to helping viewers make sense of the moral anchorage of the story. As a plot Wolfwalkers, is drawn up in an expert fashion, in fact, it might be the most tightly constructed story Cartoon Saloon has produced thus far. The characters are extremely memorable, unique, and instantly likeable, they are able to each carry a distinct personality and a complex yet unexplained history. The finale is also formulated in a subtle and skilled fashion, putting into play all the social commentary, mythology, and entertainment aspects mentioned before to culminate with an exciting and engrossing conclusion that genuinely had me on the edge of my seat.

The animation retains its hand-drawn charm of previous Cartoon Saloon films, although there is a clear step towards an integration of computer technology to help craft the more abstract aspects of nature and magic in the film. For art history buffs Wolfwalkers will also be impressive regarding how animators have remained faithful to the artistic styles of the 17th century. The background of many scenes depicting Kilkenny is done in the fashion that many contemporary battle paintings were, while the film utilizes a completely different style akin to Gaelic art and architecture when depicting the magic and mythology in the film.

As a result, Wolfwalkers turns out to be impressive and the best animated film to date from Cartoon Saloon, as well as the best film so far distributed by Apple. There are incredibly mature and dark themes that are handled and presented with care and clarity for any viewer to enjoy, while the narrative and story are constructed in an expert and intriguing manner, creating fan-favorite characters and a climaxing and nail-biting finale.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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