WolfWalkers

 

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Cartoon Saloon’s latest stab at Irish folklore is let down by blockish figures and a certain repetition in the telling.

   

WolfWalkers

  

Although WolfWalkers is set in 1650, the period will be immaterial to the film’s target audience – who, presumably, will be very, very young. It is, of course, the year of the Siege of Clonmel, when Cromwell’s New Model Army barged into Tipperary. The scene here is the walled town of Kilkenny as governed by the Lord Protector himself, voiced by Simon McBurney. It is his aim to clear the surrounding forest in order to plant crops and establish an agrarian society. But there be wolves in those dark woods and thus Bill Goodfellowe, an English hunter in the employ of the army, is tasked with ridding the entire place of its lupine occupants – in just two days.

 

Bill, voiced by Sean Bean, is a rather one-dimensional character, whose relationship with his daughter, Robyn, is as sketchy as his dialogue. “Do as you’re told!” he barks at her. “It’s for your own good!” appears to be his catchphrase. Like many animated heroines, Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) is bereft of her mother and, of course, just wants to play in the woods. She’s an independent, stubborn girl and with her trusty falcon Merlin and crossbow, she has no fear of the dark creatures that prowl beyond the outskirts of the town.

 

Any adult over eight will see where this is all going, as man confronts nature, while overcoming his fear of the unknown. The opening images establish a sylvan idyll, accompanied by booming birdsong – until the first axe fells its first tree. Then those glowing eyes emerge from the undergrowth and one poor lumberjack is mauled across the chest. Nonetheless, his life is spared and his wounds healed by a mother and daughter, both with a conflagration of red hair. He, being a mere commoner, knows their ilk: they are wolfwalkers, humans that can take the form of wolves.

 

With its environmental, feminist stance, WolfWalkers ticks its PC boxes with aplomb and is already being tipped for an Oscar nomination (for best animated film). Its provenance is rock-solid: co-director Tomm Moore’s previous forays into Irish mythology, The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014), both secured Oscar nods. Here, there are many striking visuals, and it’s refreshing to ogle at the hand-drawn craft of Cartoon Saloon – the animation studio that Moore co-founded with Paul Young. But the human figures are crassly rudimentary and there’s a charmlessness to the angular form of Robyn. The animators aimed for a “woodblock aesthetic” with “a loose expressive line work”, a pictorial style that would have worked better on the page than on the big screen.

 

With audiences accustomed to the visual sophistication of Disney and Pixar, as well as to the ethereal simplicity of Studio Ghibli, it’s hard to know at whom WolfWalkers is aimed. The lyrics to the complementary songs are repetitive and all the tin whistles and fiddles in the world cannot inject Celtic magic into this ragged romp. One can smell the ingredients a mile off, but the elixir fails to fly.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Voices of  Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan, Jon Kenny, John Morton, Maria Doyle Kennedy.

 

Dir Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, Pro Paul Young, Nora Twomey, Tomm Moore and Stéphan Roelants, Screenplay Will Collins, Ed Richie Cody, Darren Holmes and Darragh Byrne, Music Bruno Coulais and Kíla, Sound Alexandre Fleurant.

 

Cartoon Saloon/Mélusine Productions-Wildcard Distribution.

100 mins. Ireland/ Luxembourg/France. 2020. Rel: 30 October 2020. Available on Apple TV+. Cert. PG.