Cartoon Saloon’s previous work including Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells has been celebrated and oft-talked about over the last decade, their highly individual animation style enrapturing audiences and getting much critical acclaim but with WolfWalkers, they’ve quite simply made a film we probably need right now.
The film in its premise may not necessarily sound essential, a girl befriends another girl who happens to be a wolf at night, but this barely scratches the surface of what’s at play here. A tale of a girl finding her purpose, her father finding his soul, her friend finding the person she never knew she needed, all with the backdrop of the English occupation of Ireland where the lead “bad guy”, who just so happens to be Oliver Cromwell, injecting a canny bit of real-world into this fantastical story, thinks he’s doing God’s work throughout is told with deft knowledge of how much pure emotion the youngers ones in the audience can deal with while wowing the adults in the audience with its animation style and genuine human kindness which the world felt like it had 6 months ago but doesn’t quite now.
To say the film is gorgeous is a pure understatement. Simple things such as the flow of a character’s hair is dealt with in detail Studio Ghibli would be proud of, the visualisation of how the wolves see other senses wraps itself in visual cues established earlier in really quite profound ways and individual static shots wow in terms of works of art in themselves. The film may well move you to tears in terms of just how good it looks even if the on-screen events aren’t absolutely melting your heart at the same time.
All of this is helped also by pitch-perfect casting. Honor Kneafsey’s inquisitive and warm nature sparks very nicely against the sheer ball of energy which is Eva Whittaker, the two conjuring some fantastic chemistry which makes the events of the second half all the more profound, while Sean Bean gives great “worried Dad” and Simon McBurney fully embodies the seemingly all-knowing Cromwell with a performance which never falls over the line into pure “boooooo” pantomime villain.
WolfWalkers would be one of the strongest films of the year regardless of what was happening in the world but with that context, frankly its fucking essential viewing for the moment, a film of genuine heart which can hopefully make people happy, even if its only for its runtime.