A touching, powerful, and euphoric animated film
This review comes from my Letterboxd profile, where I review all of the movies I see.
This. This, this, this, this, this. This is the film that I'm going to be using for years, if not decades, as an example of masterful and unique storytelling. This is a film that embraces its culture, appeals to everyone, establishes stakes early, uses every second of its runtime to its advantage, and uses familiar and cliche elements in a unique and stylized way to create their own voice, their own character, and their own unique experience. I genuinely believe that Wolfwalkers is a modern animated masterpiece, and I don't usually use that kind of hyperbole right off the bat. Yes, I'm good at hyperbole, but not to THAT extreme.
Now, I'm not unfamiliar with Tomm Moore's work at all. In fact, I have now seen all of what is apparently called his "Irish Folklore Trilogy," the other two films of which are The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Now, I'm gonna be honest, I actually didn't really like The Secret of Kells all that much. I didn't hate it, but there wasn't necessarily anything about it that stuck with me personally. It's been years since I've seen it, though, so I'll probably have to watch it again in the near future. Meanwhile, Song of the Sea has a very personal place in my heart, so for me to say that I consider this film to be less flawed than Song of the Sea, but that I think I actually may like it more overall AS A MOVIE than Song of the Sea... yeah, this movie is phenomenal. Nothing short of it, there's no other word for it, it's simply astounding.
But what makes it so astounding to me? Well, let's start with the typical positives of a Tomm Moore film. The animation is simply stunning, with beautiful hand-drawn animation that almost feels painted throughout the majority of this film. Every single watercolor-life frame feels like it has a life and spirit of its own, and the action sequences, character personalities, and anthropomorphic charms burst off the screen. Bruno Coulais's score is, once again, simply incredible, with beautiful orchestral themes and an absolutely euphoric sequence where Aurora re-recorded one of her oldest singles, "Running with the Wolves." The voice acting is incredibly subdued but authentic, with the character relationships feeling organic and colorful the whole way through. Finally, the film's portrayal of Irish culture simply absorbs the viewer -- those from outside of Ireland into a whole new world and those who grew up there possibly into a land that feels like a comforting home.
The thing I praise most about this movie, though, is its storytelling. Yes, there are elements from SOOO many other movies that I've seen that I could pinpoint very easily -- Brave, Brother Bear, How to Train Your Dragon, The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and so, so, so many others. However, the way all of these narrative elements are executed in this particular story feels so unique, so fresh, and so particular to Tomm Moore's style that they never feel like ripoffs, they always feel like his particular interpretation of those narrative tropes. There's something about this movie's voice that constantly makes everything feel unique, even though not every narrative element in this movie is by any stretch of the imagination. That's what a great original story is supposed to do -- find a way to use either unique narrative angles or find a way to make narrative tropes feel unique to this particular story, and Wolfwalkers, in my opinion, nails that despite having quite a few borderline cliche narrative elements.
This movie also sets up its stakes and interest as early as it possibly can. Within the first ten minutes of the movie, through visual storytelling and minimal dialogue, we completely understand why this town is so afraid of wolves, what possible secrets may await the town in a nearby forest, why the main character Robin is perfectly capable of holding her own, why her father is still unsure about her independence, and how dangerous the situation could get for every single character involved. From there, the film just keeps building and building in stakes, never letting a single moment go to waste until the climax, where each piece of the narrative that is most important to each main character collides head-on and each character has no choice but to face their hardest ordeal. As I said, this film is brilliant at its visual storytelling, too. Viewers can tell which wolves are the calmer, more humanlike wolfwalkers and which are the more savage, pure wolves just by the shape of their eyes and the size of their pupils. That is the level of attention to detail we're talking about here when it comes to character traits, making each character's personality come through just by how they're animated. It's simply incredible to behold.
Guys, I really have nothing else to say except if you have AppleTV+, watch this film. If you don't have AppleTV+ and this film ever comes out on Blu-ray, buy the Blu-ray. If you love Tomm Moore's previous films, watch this film whenever you have the opportunity. I'm dead serious, it's that good. I really hope that this isn't the kind of review that raises your expectations so high that by the time you actually watch this movie, you're disappointed a bit by its quality in the end. At the end of the day, just remember that this is my personal opinion of the movie, but in that personal opinion of mine, this might honestly end up in my top ten animated films of all time. Could it end up in my top ten in general? That might be stretching it just a bit, but regardless, I genuinely thought this movie was nothing short of fantastic. There is not a single thing about this movie I don't personally like. Not a single thing. If you don't personally love this movie as much as I do, that is totally, totally fine, but if you love animation in general, I think you'll at least find something to like in this amazing, beautiful film.
Letter Grade: A+
[Oh, shoot, I forgot to mention that I genuinely think this movie should win Best Animated Feature. I love Soul and I'm 90-95% sure it's gonna win, but I really, REALLY want this film to take home an Oscar.]