As I was starting to compile my Year End Review lists for the I Am Groot “voice over” award and the best animated movie of 2020, I realized that 2020 was an underwhelming year for animation. With a few exceptions, 2020 has not been a standout for animation. However, it is very possible that December is going to save this year’s animation. Pixar’s Soul is coming Christmas day on Disney + and then on Apple Plus was the release of Wolfwalkers, and Wolfwalkers may be the best animated movie we have gotten yet in 2020.
In the 17th century Irish town of Kilkenny, Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) was the daughter of Bill (Sean Bean), a great hunter that had been brought into the town to deal with the wolf problems, and she wanted to help her father. Her father, determined to keep her safe, wanted her to stay in the town so he would not lose her as he had lost his wife, her mother.
Robyn went into the woods to prove to her father that she could hunt by his side. Unfortunately for Robyn, she was caught in one of her father’s wolf snares. A pack of wolves showed up and the leader of the pack, Mebh (Eva Whittaker), tried to free Robyn from the trap. Robyn believed that the wolf was trying to attack her and fought back. In the end, Mebh bit Robyn.
Turned out that Mebh was a “wolfwalker,” which was, by sense, an Irish werewolf. Wolfwalkers would be human, but, when they went to sleep, tuned into a wolf, leaving the human body in a form of a coma, until the wolf returns and reunites with the body.
The bite to Robyn wound up making Robyn a wolfwalker and changed the way she would look at the world and the forest. She had to try to help her new wolf friend while dealing with the madness of the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney), whose word was law and who was determined to kill all wolves.
The animation here was beautifully drawn and was unlike most animation today. There was a rawness to the animation and it helped create the mood of the film. There is a simplistic feel to it, but I would argue that the animation was more than what it appeared. The character designs were wonderful and original, creating an amazing looking group.
The voice work is exceptional, especially from Sean Bean and Honor Kneafsey. It was filled with emotion and passion, as characters were forced into doing things that they did not really want to do. Sean Bean is fully tortured in what he had to do and what he felt he was inevitable.
There was a Studio Ghibli flair to this movie as well, as if Studio Ghibli told Irish tales. I have seen some criticism of the movie that the story is simplistic, but I do not necessarily agree with that. I will admit that I was never sure what was going to happen and I was uncertain about how events were going to play out, happily, tragic or some combination. That kept the stakes high.
Wolfwalkers on Apple + was a beautiful and exceptional animated film that can be enjoyed by the adults right alongside their children. It is most likely the best animated film of the year.
Now it’s your turn, Soul.