There is a certain kind of beauty to animated films, especially hand-drawn ones. The world-building is always extremely extensive, as they are not restricted to practical effects and sets, and whatever the latest advancement in CGI may be. One animation studio that has excelled in the hand-drawn art department – both in terms of backgrounds and character designs – is Irish studio Cartoon Saloon. They are responsible for films such as The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner. All of these films are illustrated in a unique, very 2D and flat style, which makes up for its lack of dimension with detail and color palettes. The studio’s art style is reminiscent of what you would find in a children’s book. The studio never fails to create beautifully animated fantasy worlds with fun characters, and their newest film showcases how much the studio’s art style has advanced since 2009.
Wolfwalkers is Cartoon Saloon’s newest film, which follows a young girl named Robyn, who has recently moved to Ireland with her father, who has been tasked with wiping out the last pack of wolves. Robyn believes she is capable of helping her father and she feels restricted by the town’s rules and Lord Protector. After sneaking outside of the town walls, she meets Mebh, whose mother is the leader of the pack of wolves. She soon discovers that Mebh is a Wolfwalker, a human who turns into a wolf when she sleeps. The film is directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Steward, and the duo has drawn inspiration from Irish folklore in most of their feature films. Additionally, Wolfwalkers touches on the environment and extinction, and the history of the English invasion of Ireland in the 1600s. The film is set during this time, and addresses the divide between Catholics and Protestants, as well as the history behind how the English worked to rid Ireland of its wolves.
These themes are expressed not only through the story itself and the characters’ motivations – there’s Robyn who is forced to be a scullery maid by her protective father who fears the Lord Protector, all contrasted by the wild and carefree Mebh – but also through the animation. As Robyn’s world becomes more intertwined with Mebh’s, her character design evolves to resemble that of Mebh and the wolves. The character design of the townspeople is very clean and precise. On the other hand, Mebh and the wolves are designed to be more sketch-like, as the initial sketches are visible underneath outlines. The film represents magic as it has in the studio’s past films, with beautiful sequences illuminated by more abstract figures.
I would say more about the story, but due to the nature of a film that geared towards kids, I would cross into spoiler territory very quickly. However, I will say that although this is a film for kids, it’s still a beautifully animated movie that addresses themes of family that can be appreciated by audiences of all ages. The film has been well-received by critics, and I’m excited to see how it will perform during awards season.
Wolfwalkers is now streaming on Apple TV+.