With an overwhelming amount of computer-generated animated films nowadays being critical and financial hits, some audiences might think traditional animation is a thing of the past. Even Studio Ghibli has turned to CGI with their next feature The Earwig and the Witch. However, over the past decade, Irish studio Cartoon Saloon has become a championing force for 2D animation. The studio’s latest feature Wolfwalkers sees Tomm Moore return to the helm with Irish folklore, and Ross Stewart making his directorial debut alongside him. The result is a gratifying culmination of the studio’s techniques over the past ten years.
In the mid 17th-century, Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey) and her father, Bill (Sean Bean), have relocated from England to Kilkenny, Ireland (home of Cartoon Saloon). Bill works as a wolf hunter, and his job is to kill the last remaining wolves in the nearby woodland so the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney) can clear it for farmland. Robyn pretends to hunt wolves with her father, and on one occasion she gets caught in a trap and is discovered by a wolf. Convinced the wolf is trying to attack her, Robyn chases it through the woods after she breaks free, only to uncover a hidden pack of wolves guarded by two humans. Mebh (Eva Whittaker) and her mother, Moll (Maria Doyle Kennedy) are wolf walkers, humans that turn into wolves when they sleep. While Moll is asleep, Mebh explains she was trying to help Robyn, and the two befriend each other. However, their friendship is in for testing times, due to the escalating situation of attempting to eradicate the wolves.
The animation in Wolfwalkers is utterly stunning. The hand-drawn woodland landscapes are so detailed that each frame of it is awe-inspiring. The leaves and trees are rich with various shades of green, brown, and yellow that create the perfect atmosphere of a dense forest. It engulfs the audiences’ eyes with amazement at how wonderful it all looks. Even when Robyn works for the Lord Protector, the greyscale colour palette of his castle exemplifies the mundanity of her tasks. This artwork enhances the charming story, which may seem formulaic, but it has enough original twists to revitalise it when needed. Along with the eye-catching visuals is a soothing score by Bruno Coulais as well as Irish folk group Kíla (who have provided music for previous features) which complements the story and ocular display.
Cartoon Saloon knows how to immerse the audience in a narrative that has Irish folklore at its heart, just like Studio Ghibli does with Japanese stories and tales. Every aspect including sound design and music along with the animation adds to an embellishing presentation in Wolfwalkers. Though the studio’s previous films have all received nominations for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, this might be their best work to date, and there will be an expectation for it to get another nomination. One thing is for sure, Cartoon Saloon and Wolfwalkers have proved there’s still a place for traditional animation.