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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart
scr Will Collins
prd Paul Young, Nora Twomey, Tomm Moore, Stephan Roelants
voices Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Tommy Tiernan, Jon Kenny, John Morton, Nora Twomey, Oliver McGrath, Paul Young, Niamh Moyles
release UK 30.Oct.20,
TORONTO FILM FEST
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With beautiful storybook-style animation, this Irish animated adventure harks back to a magical time. Children will love the tale's darker edges, as it never shies away from enjoyably yucky realities or political tensions between Ireland and its interloping British rulers. So even if the line between good and evil is a bit too clear-cut, the characters are hugely engaging, and the story takes several surprising twists and turns.
In 17th century Kilkenny, young English girl Robyn (Kneafsy) is impatient to join her father Bill (Bean) hunting down marauding wolves. But of course, girls simply aren't allowed to hunt. When she sets out to prove herself, she runs into Mebh (Whittaker), a feral girl who lives with the wolves, and actually becomes one at night. As she discovers this secret world of mythical wolfwalkers, Robyn and Mebh concoct a perilous plan: if Mebh can convince her sleeping mother (Kennedy) to lead the wolves away, Robyn will persuade her disbelieving father not to kill them.
The animation is a mix of styles: sketchy people, water-coloured backgrounds, lushly rendered woods and hyper-tactile dreams, all hand-drawn with a terrific sense of detail that comes to life through vivid characters and a strikingly open emotionality. The script also takes the time to set the historical scene, with perhaps overly villainous British Lord Protector Cromwell (McBurney) quashing all dissent to exploit the Irish land from his fortress, driven by his religious fervour. And the impact on the land is quietly noted ("The woods are getting smaller every day").
The voice work is full of attitude, most notably from Kneafsey and Whittaker, whose characters build strong, playful chemistry. Robyn is impulsive and intrepid, homesick for England but curious about this new culture, furious that girls are expected to be scullery maids. And Mebh is hilariously mischievous, playing pranks on the occupying Brits while yearning to protect her tribe and wake her mother. She also teaches Robyn how to be a wolfwalker herself, opening up her senses to a range of new experiences.
There are several exhilarating action set-pieces along the way, adding both rollicking fun and nerve-rattling suspense. These sequences are just as character-based as the deeper drama of the narrative, which builds intense resonance in a series of dark decisions that lead to an astonishing final act. This is a powerful parable about the dangers of deploying strong-arm tactics to solve a problem and the importance of taking action to defy cruel, ignorant bullies.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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