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[TIFF2020] Walk, Don’t Run for Wolfwalkers Debut!

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Toronto International
Film Festival 2020

North American Debut



Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers is a sweetly engaging animated tale about the winds of change not only within the Goodfellowe family but also with Ireland as a whole. No, we’re not necessarily talking about revolution, but instead in how to let the past be what it must, and see little sparrows grow.

Robyn’s (Honor Kneafsey) coming of age tale is key to this heroine’s journey into adulthood. Bill (Sean Bean) can’t bear to see her grow up. He promised (the wife is presumably deceased) to keep this wee darling daughter safe, but she’s ready to kill wolves like her father. He’s been hired by the puritanical Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell to hunt down the wolves of Kilkenny. This film is historically correct when they are considered a threat to business (mostly the loss of sheep) but there are other ways to handle a dire situation..

One pack would have gladly left if the humans used diplomacy. Instead, they aren’t going anywhere when their leader is missing and presumably captured. Mebh (Eva Whittaker) is the closest thing this pack has to a leader. She’s no doubt part wolf and is looking for where her mother went. When Robyn meets this wild girl of the woods, the bonds forged are not simply about humanity going against nature. Instead, it’s in how the two can peacefully coexist.

Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart directed this magical film brimming with a lot of wonderful artistic design. Unlike prior works layered with beautiful visual and mythical motifs, this one is more emotionally driven without the hidden meanings. The casting is very notable. Whittaker is perfect to convey a spitfire of energy in that role of a nine-year-old redhead. She’s very different from Merida in PIXAR’s Brave. That honour is on Kneafsey. She balances between a carefree pixie-ish tween to a confident adult ready to take on the world.

The two girls are charming. It’s easy to see them quickly bond within days during this film. To see the younger one show the older one the way of the wolf had a lot of charm and to be honest, I figured they would become a family. It’s easy to realize when Mebh accidentally bit Robyn and what gets transferred is less about the magic but more about how the world looks like with society is defined by other rules. The challenges between matriarchal roles to that of the medieval patriarchy is just as notable.

Along with gaining enhanced senses, finding where Mebh’s mother is easy peasy when Robyn gets that chance for a new life.

It’s sad modern Ireland no longer has wolves prowling around and the explanation is straight from history. Part of it had to do with animal control, but Moore and Stewart’s treatment suggests more without being preachy. This story takes place when Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland in 1649 with his New Model Army and subtly notes how he made prisoners of the citizenry. Robyn said it best, “I’m already in a cage!” when challenging how her father easily takes orders from this governor.

This latest film is not too different from the previous two tales–all using shape shifting as a metaphor on how it changes society. The talents at this studio have certainly one-upped themselves with this latest work.

Anyone who can’t see this movie due to this film being region locked doesn’t have to worry for too long. GKIDs is handling further theatrical showings (where possible) before it lands on Apple+

5 Stars out of 5

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