Cartoon Saloon newest smash hit “Wolfwalkers” is now in contention for Best Animated Feature at the Golden Globe Awards. Already the winner of Best Animated Film for 2021 by the Atlanta Film Critics, the Chicago Film Critics Association, and the New York Film Critics Association among many others, this flick is a delightful romp through medieval Ireland.
Its English occupied Ireland in the sixteen hundreds, and young Robyn Goodfelowe is determined to become a great wolf hunter just like her father. However, when she explores the nearby woods she discovers the existence of the wolves’ leader, a friendly werewolf type creature who also turns into a little girl, Mebh. But their new friendship is put to the test when Robyn’s father is ordered by the Lord Protector to bring down the forest and kill all the wolves.
“Wolfwalkers” comes from the studio Cartoon Saloon, and is their fourth feature film. Known for their high-quality filmmaking and adherence to traditional animation, the film is a breathtaking display of what 2D animation can do. This is especially eye-catching now that virtually every big studio animated movie is in computer-generated 3D, and “Wolfwalkers” firmly states that there’s plenty of possibilities in the old ways.
There’s something about hand-drawn [animation] that is freer. I feel like you can play more with the style and push [it] more … if you are working with a big budget [and] a certain style, you can get more with hand-drawn. With as broad a spectrum as possible, it’s very easy to grow tired [when] everything looks the same. No matter the media, if it has a new twist, I love it,” the producers explained in a press conference.
Visually, the picture is astounding. It has a visual style that echoes the era of medieval European stained glass windows and steel engraving illustrations that you might find in old books. This blends with the distinct Irish identity permeating the story, characters, and setting, which is fitting given that Cartoon Saloon is based in Kilkenny, Ireland.
It cannot be emphasized enough how beautiful the movie looks, it’s clear an enormous amount of care has gone into every individual frame. The last time an animated movie was so visually spectacular might have been “Loving Vincent.”
This is further helped by the fantastic voice acting. Sean Bean is the most recognizable name present and provides a stable and subtly emotional performance as Robyn’s wolf hunting dad. But the real stars are Robyn and Mebh, voiced by Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker respectively. They knock it out of the park, displaying real depth to their relationship and showing maturity beyond their youth.
The music of the movie was provided by frequent Cartoon Saloon collaborators — veteran movie composer Bruno Coulais, with assistance from the Irish folk group Kíla. Singer Aurora additionally contributed her song “Running With the Wolves,” a beautiful tune that underscores one of the highlights of the movie. Coulais emphasized the importance of experimentation when coming up with a movie’s music.
I started very early in the process … each film is unique and music is not there for the background but to try to reveal a secret part of the film. The story is not so important for me. I’m very dependent on light, mood, color, there is some connection between the colors and orchestration and density,” Coulais explained.
Interestingly, since Coulais has worked with the studio before, it was possible for them to use some of his previous music as temporary underscoring while they worked on the animation. Said editor Darragh Byrne, “Because we had worked with Bruno before, we had a dearth of material. Temp tracks already existed, and texturally we weren’t starting from scratch like [our previous collaboration] ‘Song of the Sea.’”
Nothing short of stunning in all departments, “Wolfwalkers” by Cartoon Saloon is the must-see movie from 2020 and a virtual lock to win Best Animated Feature of the year at both the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Both child friendly and covering mature themes like societal pressure, dealing with being different, growing up, and standing for your principals, there are few other movies from any year that are this accessible and enjoyable. “Wolfwalkers” is available to stream on Apple TV+.