Wolfwalkers 2020 ★★½

Watched Nov 132020

joshmatthews’s review published on Letterboxd:

To preface this review’s coming negativity, this movie’s animation stuns, delights, inspires, and awes at times. It could be, arguably, one of the best animated movies ever, just in terms of its visuals — including compositions, colors, framing, and juxtaposition of shot to shot.

But oh boy, let’s use our brains here. This movie is too simplistic, making me feel dumber by the end. My entire family felt the same way; maybe we were all sharing ESP vibes.

I think Moore and Stewart were going for classic Disney animated features. They include lots of “magic,” as in glowing yellow light that frames and emanates from the characters. Also, the villains are over the top EVIL. Wait a minute, not just EVIL. They are EVIL!!!!!!!

I probably don’t have enough exclamation marks there.

I might’ve been expecting something more nuanced, like “Secret of Kells” or “Song of the Sea.” Like a soulful Irish folktale. “Wolfwalkers” has that promise, and yet it dives into dark “us vs. them” storytelling, privileging one half of its contrasts so obviously that the entire movie is predictable from about the 10th minute on.

Here are the contrasts:
— English v. Irish
— Christian v. “magic”/pagan
— adult v. child
— humans v. wolves
— town v. wilderness

Guess which side of those contrasts this movie favors? Pretty easy to roll with the zeitgeist, whether anti-Christian or pro-environment or pro-child or anti-“Lord Protector.” Nobody, at least not today, is going to yell at you for those choices.

It’s surprising the movie’s story is as lame as it is. The concept could’ve been interesting. Humans can be “wolfwalkers,” meaning that they can become wolves while they sleep. They can lead a wolfpack in a nearby forest, which the town run by the 17th century English wants to chop down for farmland. This would harm the wolves, and thus the wolfwalkers, who are inverse werewolves. 

Where “The Secret of Kells” understood the Christian/pagan and civilization/nature binaries in complex and nuanced ways, this movie just seems basic to me. If the animation weren’t so astounding, this would be a bad Netflix original, or some kind of PBS “Save the Wolves” documentary.

Pretty much everybody I know has heard me extol “Song of the Sea,” a truly great movie. And yet here in “Wolfwalkers” we get a bit political for the kids. I know that saving wolves and preserving forests is ultra-important and agree mostly with those positions in general. But just once, somewhere, I’d like to not have to think about simplistic binary politics. You’d think we could get away from that in a kids animated movie, but not these days.

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