Review: Wolfwalkers (2020)

Directors: Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart
Screenwriters: Will Collins, Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart
Starring: [voices of] Honor Keafsey, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tierney, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Genres: Animation, Children/Family, Sci-fi/Fantasy
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, scary images, some thematic elements, and brief language
Release Dates: 11/13/20 (Theatres); 12/11/20 (Streaming)
Runtime: 1h 43min
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Where to Watch: Apple+
Oscar Nomination(s): Likely–Animated Featured Film; Possible–Original Score; Long-Shot–Original Screenplay

I knew very little about the Ireland-set animated film Wolfwalkers prior to viewing it; I’d heard great reviews, with some people even saying that this film is better than Pixar’s latest, Soul, and could potentially beat it for the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar this year. And, while I found Wolfwalkers to be highly entertaining, heartwarming, and inventive, I’m not sure it has enough originality to surpass Soul. That’s not to say that it is hackneyed or thoroughly predictable; rather, Pixar has set such a high bar that is nearly impossible to match. 

I’m actually glad I didn’t know that much about the film before watching it, as it was exciting to see the events unfold. Wolfwalkers starts out fairly predictable, and involves werewolves — in this universe they’re called Wolfwalkers (hence the title) — but, just when you think you know where it’s going, it goes somewhere else entirely. I’ll refrain from spoiling it, as I’d prefer for others to experience as I did, with my limited knowledge. It’s one of the more original werewolf-centered films I’ve seen in a long time (or perhaps ever). Setting it in 1600s Ireland is perhaps its greatest asset, as it deals with mythology, and the animation is wholly unique and unexpected. 

The story itself is suitable for adults and children alike, although I’d caution parents against allowing their younger children to see, as it does have some relatively scary elements (including shooting). The story is, at its heart, about family, and that’s something I am always happy to get behind, especially when accomplished in such an innovative way. It’s also a story about friendship between two unlikely people, whose relationship ends up being just as important as any other in the film. 

I didn’t have any issues understanding what they were saying, which can sometimes be the case with Irish and Scottish accents. That’s in part thanks to the talented voice cast, lead by Honor Keafsey as the young protagonist and Sean Bean as her well-meaning, protective father. Bean’s gruff, sensitive voice suits the role, and it’s no surprise to see (or rather, hear) him in another fantasy setting, after his appearances in Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. There’s also Simon McBurney as the villain, who is probably the only real weak link of the film. His motivations are unclear and are seemingly religious-based, and, even if I wasn’t an Atheist, this still wouldn’t make sense to me. 

In addition, the score is stunning and suits the narrative quite nicely. It seems to be rooted in Irish history, which makes the setting much more interesting. All in all, it’s another impressive, heartwarming film from Cartoon Salon, even though I wouldn’t say it’s the best animated film of 2020. It’s probably an excellent pick for both children and adults to enjoy.