Tuesday, October 20, 2020

AFI Fest Spotlight: Wolfwalkers

I’m delighted to be covering a number of selections from AFI Fest 2020. The festival runs October 15th-22nd, 2020, and films are available to watch online during that time.

Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
Festival Information

People tend to be afraid of things they don’t understand, and that all too often turns into hate. The word homophobia, for instance, should indicate a fear of homosexuality, but instead it’s used almost all the time to refer to a hatred of it. Those who espouse extremist ideologies are rarely willing to take the time to get to know those whose very existence so offends them, and a normalization of behavior deemed different takes considerable time, and may never be accepted by everyone. There are – and will continue to be – many examples throughout history of the toxic effects of othering, which are illustrated wonderfully in this parable.

Robyn Goodfellowe moves with her father from England to Ireland so that he can help the Lord Protector defend the city from wolves. Her father knows that she is curious and eager to learn but urges her to remain within the city’s walls. When she ventures outside of them, she meets Mebh, a girl who calls her “townie” and turns into a wolf each night. As the Lord Protector orders her father to kill all the wolves and the townspeople tremble at the sight or sound of the pack, Robyn begins to learn more about who the wolves are and what they really want.

This is the fourth feature film from Irish studio Cartoon Saloon, which has a strong record with three past Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature: “The Secret of Kells,” “Song of the Sea,” and “The Breadwinner.” Like its first two films, this one tackles a mythical notion, bringing to life the wolfwalkers who are mysteriously able to control the pack and to communicate with them. Though Robyn tries over and over to shoot with her crossbow when she first encounters this unknown phenomenon, her willingness to be open to a new idea is what ultimately allows her to see the beauty of the wolves and that the threat posed is from the humans to the wolves rather than the other way around.

This film positively echoes many animated productions before it with plucky protagonists who are woefully underestimated by all around them. Robyn is an energetic and passionate main character unwilling to be told what she can and can’t do, and her father is supportive even if his allegiance is to a tyrant who cares little for the people he is supposedly charged to protect. The voice cast, which includes Sean Bean and Simon McBurney, is great, and this film has a tremendous spirit. The animation, as expected, is beautiful, and this film is just as much a visual treat as it is an emotional one.


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