Cartoon Saloon is an Irish animation studio, and they're absolutely world class. They first gained world attention right out of the gate, when The Secret of Kells became a nominee for Best Animated Feature in the 2009 Academy Awards. It wasn't the first time a foreign movie made it on the list, but it was a surprise for many casual Oscar watchers.
Of course, if you actually watched the movie, it was a no-brainer; it not only deserved to be nominated, it's part of the reason 2009's list of Best Animated Feature nominees is still one of the all time best for the category. Since then, every feature by Cartoon Saloon has been nominated in the category; Tomm Moore, director of The Secret of Kells and now Wolfwalkers, was further personally nominated for Song of the Sea.
Both earlier films feature furry elements, especially Song, which deals with selkies (Cartoon Saloon is also responsible for the very furry, very good Skunk Fu! series). However, with Wolfwalkers, Moore and co-director Ross Stewart have created the studio's most furry-friendly film yet. The titular Wolfwalkers could be considered a variety of werewolf; but this time, they're the good guys.
Wolfwalkers tells the story of Robyn Goodfellowe (voiced by Honor Kneafsey) the daughter of a wolf hunter and trapper (voiced by Sean Bean) who has traveled to Ireland to help rid it of wolves. Robyn at first wants to follow in her father's footsteps, and when she literally does so and ends up outside of the walled village and in the woods, a series of misadventures leads her to a meeting with Mebh (voiced by Eva Whittaker), first briefly in human form, then later, and much more importantly, in the form of a wolf.
During the second encounter with Mebh, Robyn is accidentally bitten by Mebh, and, well, you know the rules. Robyn, not having access to a television playing The Wolf Man, is unaware of the consequences of this bite; Mebh thinks she can use her healing powers to negate it, so she doesn't even bother mentioning the consequences to Robyn. But, Mebh is mistaken.
Of course, saying this is a straight werewolf movie seems almost crass, as the transmission-through-bite and general human-to-wolf-transformation things are really the only classic elements present. Wolfwalkers less transform into wolves as gain a new, separate wolf body when they fall asleep. They also have the aforementioned healing powers, and can communicate with wild wolves. They don't have particular weaknesses to fire or silver, but are vulnerable to regular harm; furthermore, even though their wolf form and human forms are separate, any damage sustained as a wolf is transferred to the human form.
The villain of the piece is the Commonwealth's Lord Protector (voiced by Simon McBurney), who while subjugating the Irish, also plans to subjugate nature. Mebh and her wolfpack are to be exterminated, but she won't leave as her mother has gone missing.
Well, enough about the plot, which is entertaining, the real spectacle here is the art of animation on the screen. This is a gorgeous movie. While I'm not here to badmouth the CGI competition, because there are some amazingly beautiful CGI movies, I never want CGI to replace hand-drawn animation completely. There's a lot of effort put up on the screen, and you can see it because the movie allows you to see it. The animation is mostly smooth, but it also has a purposeful roughness to it that makes it feel real, despite the oftentimes heavily stylized visuals and framing.
Robyn's first time running with wolf pack is an amazing scene, and the visual style does convey a sense of other-ness when we get point of view shots from Robyn. It feels like the closest approximation of that ultimate furry fantasy of becoming an animal that I've seen in a movie. It's this embracing of "other-ness" really, I think will most appeal to furry fans. This movie understands what it's like to be an outsider.
Cartoon Saloon is, after all, an outsider studio compared to most Western animation. It has its own point of view. One that's worth checking out.
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a red fox
New teeth. That's weird.
A very subtle take on the british empire's taking food from the Irish even while they were starving to death.
Sounds like Entertainment Weekly's interviewer of Sean Bean agrees with you about the animation.
This is definitely on the list of things I want to watch.
"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~
This looks like a very good film! I'm going to watch it sometime. Thanks for bringing it up! I wouldn't have heard about it otherwise.
I watched this earlier tonight. It was wonderful. The animation was absolutely beautiful,the voice acting was great. The songs were excellent as they have been for all the Cartoon Saloon films. If you appreciate the art of 2D animation, just see this film. It's absolutely as well done as anything Studio Ghibli did.
Okay, so Wolfwalkers just won its first major-to-semi-major Animated Feature Award. It was the New York Film Critics Circle, and that's a pretty big one. Uh, Soul will probably still win the Oscar. About the best chance Wolfwalkers has is an anti-Disney/anti-Pixar "They've been winning too much!" backlash against Soul, but ... that didn't help Kubo and the Two Strings against Zootopia (and not even Moana possibly splitting the Disney vote didn't help, either, so don't think Onward will be a spoiler). During the last decade, basically, in hindsight, if Pixar had an original movie out, it won (Brave, Inside Out and Coco) even if it was, you know, Brave (The Good Dinosaur is an anomaly, but Inside Out took up it's slack); if it had a sequel, however, it struggled to be nominated. The Incredibles 2 was the only Pixar movie to be nominated outside of Toy Story sequels, which is the exception to the "no Pixar sequel wins" rule with Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4 beginning and ending the decade, respectively. Okay, so Pixar wins unless it has a non-Toy Story sequel; if that's the case, Disney's home animation studio wins (Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia), though the sequel rule applies to them as well (with only one being nominated again, Ralph Breaks the Internet in the same year as The Incredibles 2). So, there have been basically two years in the last decade where there has been no original Disney or Pixar movies (or Toy Story sequels), and in those cases non-Disney studios won with Rango and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. So, if the 2020s continue as the 2010s, well, Soul is statistically so far ahead here as to not even be funny. However, this pattern didn't develop until really the 2010s, and was not true in the 2000s, so ... a non-Pixar movie beating an original Pixar movie (Shrek over Monsters Inc. and Happy Feet over Cars, as well as Spirited Away over Disney's Treasure Planet and Lilo & Stitch in a Pixar-free year) has occurred.
Adding another wrinkle is that Soul had a lot of thunder early on as a possible Best Picture nomination; this was actually another way, by kind of circuitous and torturous logic, that Wolfwalkers might take the win. If Soul was nominated for and won Best Picture, enough voters might split their Animated Feature vote to Wolfwalkers or another, non-Soul movie. Now, as for Soul for Best Picture, well, the argument was maybe, seeing as how Parasite became the first foreign language film to win Best Picture, perhaps the Academy is looking to lodge another "first" in their belt with an animated feature BP this year, or otherwise to burn through a "bucket list" item before they hit the century mark later this decade. Well, that's not very likely, as the whole "well, COVID's gonna make this an odd year anyway" was part of that theorizing, and it turns out Oscar bait that barely makes it to the theaters in a regular year doesn't need the theaters as much. In fact, Soul is at best a "it could happen" as a nominee, which would pretty much seal the deal it wins Animated Feature as a consolation prize for not winning BP. Besides, it's not like Parasite didn't win International Feature last year. However, Soul is basically a lock for Original Screenplay (which is actually apparently kind of scant this year), and any animated feature that's gotten that nomination has went on to win Animated Feature.
The only other possibility is kind of stated earlier that Onward and Soul split the Pixar vote and Wolfwalkers splits the middle, but that doesn't seem to ever actually happen (see above: Zootopia), or there is something completely out there (as the pandemic will mean movies have an exceptionally long time before nominations and the actual awards) like everyone involved with Soul turns out to be evil (which, to be fair, that would be very Pixar). Or, hell, maybe Academy members will actually watch Wolfwalkers and like it. Obviously, winning Critics awards helps that.
For his part, director Tomm Moore has basically already signaled on Twitter that Soul is a great movie and he doesn't mind losing to it at all and he's always been of the "it's an honor just to be nominated school; also, great publicity" when actually pressed about his feelings on the Oscars.
I obviously haven't seen 'Soul' so it's hard to compare it. I'd say under normal circumstances there is absolutely no way 'Best Film' would even be on the table based on the previews I've seen. We're talking a genre where Spirited Away did well to win best animated film and 'Soul' isn't even in the same sport, much less the same league. There's also the timing of the release days before the end of the year with few people even going to see it this year. It's pretty obvious that's intentional to force it to be considered this year. That shouldn't be rewarded. It will almost certainly win best animated film being from Disney. Regardless of how stunning Wolfwalkers is, unless you know a little about the history and myths of Ireland, some of what goes on doesn't have a lot of context for those in the US. It's not as obscure as 'Secret of Kells', but still. If it were to win best film, I think a lot of people would see it as an 'apology Oscar' for not awarding one to them sooner. That's certainly happened a number of time for live acted films, but it would be a shame for that to be the case for the first animated film to win.
Well, Spirited Away had a double handicap in that it was also technically a foreign language film (even if it was technically the English dub that was nominated), and seeing as how Miyazaki himself didn't care enough to even show up to receive his Animated Feature Oscar (and, though he's been invited to join the Academy repeatedly, he keeps declining their invitation), I doubt there was actually much of a campaign there. As far as people seeing it, well, they send DVDs ("screeners") of the movies that are actually competing to voters, so not a lot of regular Joes have to see the movie in theater for the voters to see it. They also have special streams for Academy members, and special theatrical screenings, though maybe not this year for that last one. There's also film festivals, which aren't technically "Academy" things, but are where awards players get watched by voters and people who can influence voters early (they still had those this year, though many also went to streaming; Wolfwalkers "played" the Toronto International Film Festival, via stream).
So, releasing at the end of the year isn't actually very weird for an awards player; while many recent Best Pictures have released earlier in the year, October-January is the "awards corridor", with a few movies making "qualifying runs" in New York or L.A., of about a week (which is all that is required) and then releasing for real in January or even February after the Oscar buzz has provided the movie with free advertising. Hell, The Secret of Kells, Cartoon Saloon's first movie, used this strategy; it played a week in December in Burbank, California to qualify for 2009, and then had its real US theatrical run in March 2010.
Furthermore, it is not necessary this year to actually release a movie in 2020 to qualify. The Academy's Board of Directors extended the "award year" due to the coronavirus. The 2020 award year is January 1, 2020 through February 28, 2021. Nor is it necessary to have a theatrical release; once again, due to the coronavirus, a movie that can end up going straight to streaming as long as it was "intended" for theatrical release at some point. So, Soul actually releasing in 2020, even if it is at the last moment, is actually a. normal, and b. this year, going a bit above and beyond. It might be kind of a BS strategy, but Soul is hardly the worst offender here.
As far as quality is concerned, Soul has already been seen by the people who can influence the awards, and they agree it's pretty good, too. As far as whether or not it's good enough to "deserve" Best Picture, well, it's the Oscars. To quote another Best Picture, Unforgiven, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."
The way early film critics "help" a movie is getting Academy members to actually watch their screeners; so, Joe Bob Memberofthesoundbranch probably got a screener for First Cow, but he probably wasn't planning on watching it because it's called First Cow, but now that it's won the NYFC Best Picture equivalent, he might reconsider popping it into the ol' DVD player.
The people who vote for the nominees in the Animated Feature category, however, care about animated movies; in fact, the voting body for nominees at this point seems to literally be people who have asked "hey, can I vote for Animated Feature?" Most categories at the Oscars are voted on (at the nomination stage) by the "Branch" that consists of members that work in that area (so actors vote for the Acting categories; sound technicians for Sound); there is an Animation and Short Subject Branch, so a large percentage of the "Animation Branch" technically aren't animators. On the other hand, a lot of animators had the option to join other Branches, especially the Directing and Writing branches. So, the Animated Feature category is voted on by a "committee" which is actually hundreds of people who really care about animation. The upshot is the nominators were probably already aware of, and excited for, Wolfwalkers. Yeah, Disney/Pixar usually wins (even when they probably shouldn't have) because the final vote is among all Academy members (who, by and large, aren't that into animation), but the nominees are usually pretty good.
Oh, and I finally watched Onward.
Okay, it's now won LAFCA (Los Angeles Film Critics Association) Animated Feature award (Soul got runner-up, as LAFCA does that). Critics groups are stumping hard for it, anyway (it also won the Boston critics group this weekend, but it's really LA and NY that matter, and the National Board of Review). Probably just costing Soul a BP nom, but ... maybe?
Den of Geek stretches plausibility by suggesting that Wolfwalkers' transformation scenes are "a queer narrative for Robyn and Mebh’s evolving relationship". [spoilers]
I watched this the other night, and must say I really enjoyed it! Like Cartoon Saloon's other children's movies, there's a kind of... dark threat in the background, combined with a great sense of color, shape, and the celebration of Nature. This is their strongest film so far, I think. Definitely recommend it, doubly so if you're a wolf fan!
Last year I finally got around to watching The Breadwinner, an animated film that Cartoon Saloon co-produced with Canada and Luxembourg. Pretty depressing, not a fan of the ending, wouldn't recommend it.
Wolfwalkers storyboard artist Iker Maidagan presents the "story behind story".
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