Written and directed by Tom Moore and Ross Stewart, co-written by Will Collins, a young apprentice hunter and her father journey to Ireland to help wipe out the last wolf pack, but everything changes when she befriends a free-spirited girl from a mysterious tribe rumoured to transform into wolves by night. Starring: Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan and Maria Doyle Kennedy.
Unquestionably the first thing you have to discuss with this film is the animation, it slaps you in the face with its vibrancy and youthful energy. The old-school hand drawn style animation that they use has this immediately delightful quality, it’s almost as if because you can very literally see the love and care that’s gone into creating this visual that you can’t help but to be enamoured by it. It has a very smooth and flowing movement to it that makes it extremely easy and satisfying to watch and being such a wholesome story it’s a perfect pairing.
The film has a strong message about conservation and respecting nature and it’s presented in a clever fashion for a young audience who may not quite grasp the larger ramifications but will be able to understand the idea of not disturbing natural habitats. That overall theme feeds nicely into its other aspects, such as not judging someone purely because they’re different and taking the time to get to know people. While its messaging strikes an important and meaningful chord, the writing struggles to bring forth the emotion to go with it, the dialogue can be overly simple and its tone comes across rather saccharine. There’s an inherent risk and danger to the story but it feels as though it doesn’t fully embrace it to create a more thrilling atmosphere, rather staying in a very sentimental arena which lessens its impact. It particularly affects the story in its latter moments where it tries hard to build an air of fear but can’t quite reach it. It further restricts itself from more powerful emotion through its use of music, one particular moment in which Robyn embraces her wild side is undercut by a sappy song choice which is such a shame, to not let it reach its potential of a more exhilarating scene.
The introduction of the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) character also suffers from that lack of tension, his initial introduction is more of an unseen figure of intimidation and power which does work but when they try to bring him further into the story, it’s slightly too late. He hasn’t had enough set-up to suddenly take this more involved villain role, which sadly hinders the effectiveness of its big finale scenes. His character also unnecessarily adds a religious element to the story, which feels entirely out of place, so while it might have an underlying message, it doesn’t come through strongly enough for it to be a worthwhile addition to the story, rather a distraction taking away from his villain stature.
The overly sentimental air to its story is something partially caused by the choice of Honor Kneafsey as the voice of Robyn, bringing sincerity to roles is not one of her strengths as an actress, she tends to have a fairly inauthentic edge, that feels as if she’s trying too hard and struggles to be natural. She doesn’t provide a strong relatable or sympathetic tone, which isn’t helped by her accent which can’t quite keep a consistency between northern and southern. In comparison Eva Whittaker’s Mebh has a ferocious and instantly likable unabashed confidence, she really goes through a whole host of emotions and her performance is so lively and full of personality but simultaneously manages to bring through a genuine vulnerability. The friendship that’s created between the two of them is however a joy to watch, the way that Mebh opens Robyn’s eyes to so many things and gets her to change her perspective is charming. Sean Bean is ever dependable as Robyn’s father Bill, he provides the classic authoritative yet concerned presence of a single parent.
Wolfwalkers is beautifully animated, its style is entrancing to watch, it’s graceful and agile with a vivacious personality to the visual. Unfortunately, the story feels aimed at an extremely young audience and can be overly sentimental or simple at times but the messages that it holds are an extremely worthwhile wisdom to impart on the next generation. Newcomer Whittaker gives a brilliant performance as Mebh, she’s delightful to watch and holds a superb amount of energy and emotion that entirely outshines Kneafsey’s Robyn. While some elements will work more than others for different viewers, Wolfwalkers is extremely worth watching and undeniably going to be a front-runner for the top animated film this year.