TIFF 2020: Tomm Moore's Animated Film 'Wolfwalkers' is Magnificent
by Alex Billington
September 28, 2020
One of the very best independent animators / filmmakers making movies right now is Tomm Moore. This isn't even a subjective opinion, it's pretty much just a fact at this point. Moore's third feature film is titled Wolfwalkers, and it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival this year. Ohh my it's magnificent. This movie follows his other two underrated, outstanding animated features The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014). Wolfwalkers is actually co-directed by Tomm Moore and his long-time concept artist colleague Ross Stewart (making his directorial debut). It's clear this is the perfect collaboration - almost every frame in Wolfwalkers looks like concept art, with all the characters brought to life by Moore's distinctly gorgeous animation. Plus, of course, it's driven by a lovely story of wolves and women and magic and mother nature.
Wolfwalkers takes place in medieval Ireland, no surprise considering all of Moore's films are set in Ireland. It's a magical place and that makes for magical storytelling. The film follows a young apprentice hunter, named Robyn voiced by Honor Kneafsey, and her father who arrive from England to help wipe out the last wolf pack threatening a town. But everything changes when she befriends a free-spirited girl from the nearby forest. She's unwittingly pulled into the mystery of the wolves in the woods and discovers that she has some magical power that allows her, along with her new "WolfWalker" friend Mebh, to turn into a wolf. It's also no surprise the film has an environmental edge to it, with a plot hinting that humans are destroying more and more of the forest and threatening the ecosystem (and the wolves) that live there. Damn humans.
Above all else, Wolfwalkers is really a pure, heartwarming, lovely coming-of-age story. It had me right from the start and kept me excited all the way to the end. It's so wholesome and uplifting. Not only a wholesome story about a father and daughter, but also about learning to love nature, not fear it; learning to appreciate and befriend animals, not see them only as savage beasts; learning to live in harmony with nature, not just destroy it; learning to go against authority, not be controlled by it. These are important themes because even though it's mostly a charming animated film set long ago in magical Ireland, it's a story that should resonate with many people and perhaps encourage them to keep their minds and hearts open. Don't be afraid of the wolves, or of any creature out there, try to appreciate them and respect them, too. We can live in harmony.
What captivated me the most is the style. The half-done-look / concept art animation style in this is peculiar but still absolutely bewitching to watch anyway. Strangely, they've kept the original pencil strokes and initial structuring of the characters in the finished footage, and some of the establishing shots are basically top-down birds-eye-view maps. It's rare we ever see anything like this in any animated movie in general, and of course since it's Tomm Moore, it's all so gosh darn beautiful. Other highlights are the wolf POV shots which there are quite a few of. And honestly also the music (with a score by Bruno Coulais) with a few pop songs worked right into the film – I was dancing and singing along. I love me a good wolf movie. And this instantly joins the ranks of the very best wolf movies. An utter delight, a film that will cuddle you and warm your soul.
Alex's TIFF 2020 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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