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It’s not often that two of the best films of the year turn out to be animated features.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time that it has ever happened.  

When it comes to 2020, however, that’s exactly what has occurred.  Pixar’s SOUL was yet another masterpiece in the revolutionary studio’s dazzling library and seemed to be the easy front-runner when it came to naming the best-animated feature of the year.  Released on Christmas on Disney Plus, it instantly reached an audience of millions who soaked in the profound and existential journey of Joe and 22.

What many people likely didn’t realize, was that on Apple TV Plus, there was another animated film that was equally astounding.  WOLFWALKERS is an Irish film by directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart.  Moore, who was also at the helm of the vastly underrated SONG OF THE SEA and THE SECRET OF KELLS, has crafted a trio of films based on Irish folk tales that feature stunning animation and introspective stories.

The film begins in 1650 in the town of Kilkenny.  Residents are working to clear out the local woods under the orders of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney.) This doesn’t sit well with a fierce pack of wolves who inhabit the forest, and they attack those who are looking to destroy their home.  When one of the men is hurt by the wolves, a mysterious woman and her daughter emerge from the wilderness and heal his wounds.  They, along with the wolves who seem to be under the woman’s command, slink back into the forest and disappear.

In the town, young Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) lives with her father Bill (Sean Bean.)  They have been brought in from England by Cromwell, who wants Bill to destroy the wolves.  As the hunter heads out to fulfill his duties, the fiery Robyn wants to join him.  Armed with her crossbow and her faithful falcon Merlyn, she eagerly disobeys her father’s orders to stay indoors.  He wants her to remain in the safe confines of their cabin, whereas Robyn yearns for adventure and to prove her place alongside her dad.

Robyn makes her way into the forest and after becoming spooked by a pack of wolves, she accidentally shoots Merlyn with an arrow.  It is then that she sees a small, mysterious girl emerge from the shadows.  The girl suddenly scoops up Merlyn and retreats with the wolves.  This is just the first step in a journey that will forge an unlikely and unexpected friendship, one that will change the lives of both girls forever.

WOLFWALKERS may not exude the same commercial appeal as a film like the SOUL, but it is every bit as riveting and deserves the same level of attention and adoration.  For those unfamiliar with SONG OF THE SEA or THE SECRET OF KELLS, the animation style of Moore and Cartoon Saloon studios is unlike anything else seen in movies today.  In a world where computer and digital animation is standard, the hand-drawn techniques utilized in WOLFWALKERS allow it to emerge as a far more visceral and moving movie experience.  Whereas hand-drawn animation used to be commonplace, it is now a rarity.  When executed to perfection, as it is here, it can elicit the same level of awe-inspired wonderment as an action-packed blockbuster.  The comparison seems bizarre, but I recently re-watched MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, and, as it does every time, it took my breath away.  The action sequences are so ingeniously intense and complex, I still ask myself “How did they do that?!” while muttering “Wow!” and “Whoa!” in equal measures.  Put simply, I uttered many of these same exclamations while watching WOLFWALKERS.  There are scenes of such remarkable beauty and artful complexity that it was mesmerizing.  My entire family was drawn in and blown away by virtually every single scene, witnessing a world that was unlike any other that we had seen before.

Exploring themes such as loyalty, bravery, family, and friendship, WOLFWALKERS is an under-the-radar gem that not only serves as a welcome work of originality but also emerges as one of the best films of 2020.


(Now streaming on Apple TV Plus)

Brian Miller
Film Critic
Based out of Central New York, Brian Miller is a film critic who works in television, radio, and print. Providing passionate and energetic takes on every movie he sees, he looks for the best in a movie, not the worst.