You don't quite realize how "soft" and watered-down animated films in America have become over the years, until you see a film from overseas. Cartoon Saloon and Mélusine Productions (an Ireland-Luxembourg-France co-production) brings us the original Apple TV+ film, "Wolfwalkers," a film that is definitely family-friendly but that doesn't shy away from more mature themes.
Plus, it's an absolute stunning visual achievement.
Young Robyn Goodfellowe lives behind castle walls with her father, Bill, (voiced by Sean Bean), and is told not to ever leave the city limits. Packs of vicious wolves roam the dark forests outside, and rumors of "wolfwalkers" - humans with the ability to control wolves and even morph into them - makes the outside world far too dangerous for a child.
But with her trusty falcon Merlin at her side, Robyn sneaks out, only to find and befriend a young fiery-haired wolfwalker child, Mebh ("mayb"). At first, of course, the two are at odds, as they truly come from two different worlds. But after spending some time together, they are each fascinated by the other's way of life. Of course, this sort of friendship is forbidden, and when the "Lord Protector" and leader of the castle looks to hunt and kill all of the menacing wolves, Robyn, her father and Mebh become caught up in the crossfire.
The themes of childhood friendship with foreboding, clashing destinies seems similar to that of "The Fox and the Hound," one of the more under-rated Disney classics. But there is a noticeable difference in tone with "Wolfwalkers" that isn't present in nearly any modern American animated feature...there are no goofy talking animals or sidekicks, for example. "Wolfwalkers" portrays a harsh world, just one that these children have yet to be exposed to, even though they must both come to terms with growing up within its confines.
There are deeper themes at play as well: Respecting the environment and being one with nature, acceptance, betrayal, friendship, love and loss. While rated PG, very small children used to the likes of "Trolls" may find the overall tone of the film to be a bit too dark, but many of the deeper metaphors will be clear to most everyone else, adults included.
"Wolfwalkers" is also beautifully rendered, with an animation style that is inviting and also breath-taking. The music and voice-work is also top-notch.
If there is a better animated film in 2020, I haven't yet seen it. "Wolfwalkers" is definitely worth howling about.
Genre: Animated, Adventure, Fantasy.
Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes.
Story by and Directed by Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart (debuts).
"Wolfwalkers" is available on Apple TV+ on Friday, November 13th, 2020.
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