Is COVID STILL ongoing right now? Holy crap… that thing is immortal. Anyway, I’m bringing it up because today’s review is of a 2020 film: Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers, the final installment of their hit Irish Folklore Trilogy. It never got to see the big screen. GKids is a great license holder, but they make… decisions… when it comes to distribution of the products (either that or the original rights holder restricts them?). Wolfwalkers was an Apple TV+ exclusive! I say “was” because the only other way to watch it is on the trilogy Blu-Ray boxset, and that’s how I watched it for the first time!
In Wolfwalkers, a British girl named Robin and her dad move to Ireland (where no one likes them) to help take out a pack of wolves living in the nearby forest. Naturally, she’s not allowed to help even though she really wants to. Also naturally, she goes into the forest anyway. Still quite naturally, she meets a titular wolfwalker named Mave, and they hit it off. VERY naturally, this won’t exactly fly with the humans back in town!
Where do I start with this movie? Well, probably how it looks, since that’s the first thing you see. Like the Cartoon Saloon movies before it, Wolfwalkers is gorgeous. Also like the Cartoon Saloon movies before it, they don’t stick with the exact same look. For this movie, they use a more pencil-sketchy look—to the point where you can actually see some of the skeleton shapes for people’s bodies—that feels very much inspired by Disney’s xerox era films. However, while those Disney movies clearly scream budget cuts, this technique somehow makes Wolfwalkers Cartoon Saloon’s most breathtaking movie. They do some seriously crazy stuff in this one, and they already pushed the envelope before.
“But how’s the story?” you ask. Well, it’s a Cartoon Saloon movie, so it’s not exactly avant-garde. Wolkfwalkers is a pretty typical story of friendship, self-discovery, the piousness of early Christians, their inability to understand nature, and the subtle nods to how our society is now. Okay, it’s not exactly the latter, and I—once again—appreciate that from Cartoon Saloon (clearly, they ran out of gut-crushers after The Breadwinner). For a 2020 film, I was dead certain that this would be about racism, and you can argue that it is with how humans’ fear of wolves is explored. However, it really isn’t (other than literally one scene with these Irish bullies), so you can just enjoy it for the Celtic escapism that it is and stop trying to take away the childlike wonder from the few people who still cling to it (looking at you, art critics).
Speaking of childlike wonder, that—like the other two films—is just how the movie feels. While visuals can just be used as sensory-assaulting fluff for the blockbuster-savvy, Cartoon Saloon always knows how to do the most without excession. Wolfwalkers never skipped a beat, advancing at a tight pace while having time for the details that matter. Most notably, this one is not only the longest (by about ten minutes); it also has the shortest resolution, coming down to the wire about as much as any Disney movie.
Oh, and speaking of “down to the wire”, Wolfwalkers hits the hardest of the Irish Folklore Trilogy movies (obviously, The Breadwinner will break your heart and subsequently annihilate the pieces at the subatomic level, so we don’t compare it to that). With multiple layers of conflict, from Robin’s dense dad to the mean Law Protector, there’s plenty of butt-clenching to be had throughout the movie. Though it’s rated PG, you might want to be cautious if you have young’uns.
The characters, however, are kind of the weakest link in the movie. They aren’t bad per sé, but Cartoon Saloon is already showing its own brand of tropes. Robin—like Brandon and Ben—is a troublemaker, who learns valuable lessons of friendship and acceptance when she meets the aforementioned wolfwalker. Said wolfwalker, Mave, is—like Ashley and Cirsha—the unquestionably Best Girl, full of expressiveness and snark, who you want to root for but ends up suffering the most. Robin’s father, Mr. Goodfellow—like Uncle Abbot and Ben’s dad—is insufferably dense because of past trauma related to loss, and is just trying to keep his kid alive and healthy, but needs to have the truth of the matter drilled into his thick skull. There are also the usual several unnamed NPCs who serve as occasional comic relief. The similarities end, however, with the aforementioned Law Protector. Large, angular, and a devout Christian, he’s the only true villain in the Irish Folklore Trilogy. Unlike the complex, insecure parents of the main protagonists, he is just evil.
Small aside, though. Wolfwalkers was the only movie in this trilogy where the Blu-Ray Disc experienced hiccups. Honestly… it would’ve been better to rent the first two movies and do a free trial period with Apple TV+. I really don’t like Blu-Rays, or DVDs for that matter, at all. Fortunately, I discovered that GKids seem to have some contract with Apple, for a lot of anime movies I otherwise can’t watch are available for rent without having to also subscribe to Apple TV+. So… expect some more anime movie reviews on occasion.
Final Verdict: 9.85/10
I thought Wolfwalkers would be the worst of these movies for very obvious reasons. However, it was actually the best. Thanks, COVID. I hope Cartoon Saloon makes more movies… because The Breadwinner is the only one left and I am too sensitive to watch it right now (or ever). In any case, I highly recommend this amazing company’s films to anyone. They’re that good (and better than live action).