The Other Side of Animation 196: Wolfwalkers Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

With everything that is going on in the year 2020, it does seem like foreign animated films are having a much harder time finding wider audiences. Even with film festivals going online, very few are being shown outside of their country of origin. From what I have seen, only a handful have been able to go online, due to probable legal shenanigans and not wanting to risk the film leaking online through piracy and whatnot. I get that, but it then makes the overall film year feel bone dry. No real news either has been announced for some of the other major foreign releases from last year, like Swallows of Kabul. People want to see these films, but due to the pandemic, and the legal complications of it all, the films are stuck in release/distribution limbo. So, when film festivals or distribution companies do make these films available to see for a wider audience, it’s a pleasant surprise, and it also gives financial support to the festivals, distributors, and studios. That’s why I was so excited to check out what is probably going to be the best animated film of 2020, Wolfwalkers

Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, written by Will Collins, and animated by the ever-amazing Cartoon Saloon, this is the newest film by Tomm Moore that made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival 2020. It will soon be released on Apple TV+ and will have a limited theatrical release by GKIDS. So far, it has gotten critical acclaim, and it rightfully deserves it. Let’s bear our fangs and get right down to talk about this film. 

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The story follows a young girl named Robyn Goodfellowe, voiced by Honor Kneafsey. She has moved from England to Ireland with her father Bill Goodfellowe, voiced by Sean Bean. Her father is a hunter for the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, voiced by Simon McBurney, who is the leader of the town in which the Goodfellowes live. The town is having a bit of a wolf problem that is preventing the town from chopping down the forest to, well, colonize the rest of the land. As Robyn follows her dad into the forest (against his request, of course), She encounters the pack of wolves that are led by a young girl who calls herself a Wolfwalker. Her name is Mebh MacTire, voiced by Eva Whittaker. 

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I think it would be tough to talk about this movie without first talking about what might be some of the most visually stunning animation of 2020. Wolfwalkers is hands down, some of the prettiest 2D animation ever put to film. The fluidity of the movements, the designs, the colors, the rough 70s Disney/early Don Bluth is a sight to behold. I may have only been able to see this on a laptop, but it didn’t stop me from picking my jaw off the floor with how this film looked. It’s Cartoon Saloon’s most ambitious project in the art department. I love how the film uses rough sketchbook-looking characters, and they don’t clean it up at all. It gives the entire film a rough dirty look that matches the atmosphere and grunge of the period in which the film takes place. The film’s beautiful visuals are also executed perfectly, with quite wonderful editing and Samurai Jack-style split-screen effects to add tension and to enhance the emotional experience. Even the lighting in the animation makes everything look like it was animated on wood grain. It’s insane how visually stunning this film looks, and I just reviewed Children of the Sea, and this is on that level. 

The music is also wonderful as per usual. The team behind the music is the same team-up of Bruno Coulais and the folk group Kila, and to no shock at all, the music is fantastical, whimsical, atmospheric, elegant, energetic, and heavy when need be. On top of the amazing music, the voice cast is stellar. Besides the two lead actresses playing the, well, lead roles, Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker, you also have the great Sean Bean, who is always fun to see in a film or show. You also have Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan, John Morton, Jon Kenny, Oliver McGrath, Niamh Moyles, Sofia Coulais, and even Nora Twomey makes a cameo in the film. It’s a wonderful and lively cast. 

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However, most of this film would fall flat without a good story, and to be frank, the story is great. While The Breadwinner is probably Cartoon Saloon’s darkest and most mature film story-wise, Wolfwalkers is up there in that same area. Seriously, this film tackles such themes as colonialism, environmentalism, sexism, freedom, family, discrimination, and you even see the villain use mass hysteria to get people on his side. None of these themes would work if the characters that encounter them weren’t great, and they are. Robyn and Mebh have fantastic chemistry and act like a real pair of sisters. It brings a lot of memories of My Neighbor Totoro, due to that film having sisters as the leads. Even Robyn’s father, Ben, is one of the better dads of animation. I know many “I have to protect my daughter” film dad tropes get tiring, annoying, and unintentionally creepy at points, but that’s not here in this film. Even the villain, while not the most original or three-dimensional, is extremely effective. He’s intense, intimidating, uses hysteria to get people on his side, and if need be, he can get off of his literal and metaphorical high horse and try to get the job done himself. The only one who doesn’t get to be fleshed out, and probably the film’s one nitpick is Mebh’s mom, but she turns out to be a sweet and caring individual and  make sure Robyn and Mebh are safe whenever she gets the chance to be onscreen. 

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Anyway, Wolfwalkers is a masterpiece of animation and filmmaking. It’s hands down the best animated film of 2020, and the rest of the 2020 offerings need to step it up if they want to beat Apple TV+ and Cartoon Saloon’s film. Sadly, there are no release dates yet for the film on AppleTV+, but if you are okay enough to go to a theater (I wouldn’t personally go to one, but that’s just me), GKIDS will be distributing it through theaters in the US. Either way, see this film when it’s released. Now then, I think it’s time to review a very special screener. I can’t tell you what it is, but I bet you will all love the review!  

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time! 

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 130: The Secret of Kells Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Heads Up! I will be talking a bit about the ending. I’ll try to keep it as vague as possible, but I make no promises.

It was interesting when foreign animated films started to get wider recognition among the major award systems. Sure, we had a few sneak into the early days of the Best Animated Feature category, like Spirited Away and Triplets of Belleville, but it wasn’t until, say, 2009 when they started to really hit their stride. I might have said this before, but many animation fans would argue that 2009 was one of the best years of theatrical animation around. This was the year we got Fantastic Mr. FoxUpThe Princess and the FrogCoralineRedlineMary and Max, and A Town Called Panic. This was also the same year that GKids got their first Oscar nomination with their first official hit, The Secret of Kells. For those not in the know, The Secret of Kells was the first major theatrical film by studio Cartoon Saloon. It was co-directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, the duo directors that would later go on to create the Oscar-nominated Song of the Sea, the Oscar-nominated and Best Foreign Feature Annie winner The Breadwinner, the On Love sequence in The Prophet, and the upcoming Wolfwalkers. This one film put both Cartoon Saloon and GKids on the map, and made them Hollywood favorites among the critics and animation enthusiasts that are in that scene. I only have been able to check out this film recently, and, well, while I do love the movie, I think there are some faults with it. What are they? Let’s dive into the film!

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The story takes place in a place called the Abbey of Kells. This is where a large wall is built around a small village and abbey in order to protect itself from Viking attacks and outside forces. Our lead character is Brendan, voiced by Evan McGuire, a young boy whose father, Abbot Cellach, voiced by Brendan Gleeson, is the leader of the people there, and puts a lot of the faith on the wall being completed. One day, an old illuminator named Brother Aidan, voiced by Mick Lally, decides to visit the abbey after his village and abbey were destroyed in a raid. The main focal point of the story revolves around an unfinished book called, well, Book of Kells. Brendan wants to help complete the book with Brother Aidan. As this task goes on, Brendan ends up having to go past the wall, and meets a mysterious individual named Aisling, voiced by Christen Mooney. Can Brendan help complete the book with the help of this individual and Aidan, and avoid the grasp of the Vikings and the other spiritual forces outside the wall?

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So, I’m going to do something different. I love this movie, but I want to talk about its criticisms that I have for it first. I just felt like shaking things up, because I don’t hate the film, and I have plenty to say that’s positive, and how it has way more positives than negatives. So, my biggest problem with the film is the ending. It’s not a terrible ending per say. It has fairly solid closure to the overarching story, and what happens to the boy and his relationship with the old Illuminator and his father, but I’m probably not going to be the only one to say this, and why I prefer their second film, Song of the SeaThe Secret of Kells’ ending felt rushed. It’s like they wanted to do more, but then didn’t have time, or couldn’t get the production time extended, because after the Vikings attack the village, they rush through the boy’s life after escaping the village with Aidan. The visuals are amazing, but as a whole, the ending feels unsatisfying. I know many have said that this is the film that makes you think, compared to Song of the Sea’s “this one makes you feel”, but that doesn’t excuse it. Making the viewer think is not the problem, it’s rushing the ending that’s a problem. I also felt like the marketing for the movie played up Aisling’s involvement with the film. She’s a great character, but she’s not really in the movie a whole lot. She pops in every once in a while, but she could have been more important to the story. The poster even has her as the face of the film. They make her 1/3 of the trailer’s focus. You would believe that she was a major or the driving point of the plot. I understand that the film only had a 70-minute running time, but to me, that means the film wasn’t paced well, if I’m feeling like the ending was rushed, and characters were underutilized.

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Okay, so, we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the good stuff! First off, the animation for this film is gorgeous. While this was a collaborative effort between Cartoon Saloon and Les Armateurs, this art style, inspired by Celtic and Medieval art, gives this film and the studio that made it, its own identity. It really does match that style, while being friendlier. Yeah, some parts look weird, and the perspective is wonky, but that is the point. Look back at all the great art of that era, and tell me who looks accurate in poses, and who looks like they just got kicked in the spine by The Juggernaut. Don’t take this to mean that it won’t be as finely detailed as the art that inspired it. It’s lush, it looks like Celtic buildings were taken over by nature with multiple beautiful colors and design work, and while a lot of the work was done using computers to put in all the textures, it’s never distracting. The animation itself is gorgeous, and everyone moves smoothly. You can tell they took this first project seriously.

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In addition to the beautiful animation, it also has a strong voice cast. Evan McGuire does a great job bringing this optimistic and child-like innocence to Brendan, Brendan Gleeson is wonderful as the stern Abbot Cellach, and Christen Mooney offers an innocent, if way wearier and all-knowing persona, to this mysterious individual known as Aisling. I also really loved the late Mick Lally’s performance of Brother Aidan. Aidan is, simply put, a likable character. He’s wise, but isn’t above having fun, but when he’s serious, Mick Lally brought it. What else goes with great voice work? Music! Composed by Bruno Coulais with music from Kila, Bruno also did the music for Coraline. Both the composer and Kila bring all that Celtic and Irish flair that you would think would be in this film. It’s whimsical, fantastic, yet it can also be very mature, slow, and wonderfully atmospheric when the time came for it. It’s a very quiet film, in a time where it seems like studios think you need to be loud, but Kells decides to be a rather calm movie to sit through. I found the film to have some similarities to a recent GKids film, Birdboy. It has a familiar theme of finding the light in the world among the darkness, and how isolation is not really all that good. Life is going to have its challenges and dangers, and you are not always going to be prepared for it. Also, enjoy life. You only live once, so don’t wait for something to happen.

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Originally, for the 130th review, I was going to tackle Happily Ever After, the animated film that touted itself as a sequel to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It bombed financially at the box office, got critically panned, got sued up the wazoo by Disney, and famously shut down the notorious animation studio, Filmation. However, I decided to do something positive. Why? Because for once, I didn’t feel like dredging up a dead horse to talk about a film that infamously shut down an entire studio. Sometimes, it’s way too easy to get super negative, and act like you are the cool kid by saying a studio like Sony Pictures Animation should shut down because they made The Emoji Movie, or say that the writers of Pixels need to have their fingers chopped off. If you are getting to that point in your life, and have no emotions for the people that work hard on making a movie that just happened to end up being bad, then you have no soul, and you need to reevaluate your life. It’s something I see a lot of online critics do, and to be honest, I’m so tired of it. Hate a movie, because you don’t like it, and don’t harass the people who worked on it, and be an actual human being with some empathy, because you only look like a garbage person if you think harassing and insulting people is actually going to help things. Anyway, back to the point, The Secret of Kells is a fantastic film. I might have some issues with the ending, but it’s a feature everyone should see. If you can find some time to pick up a copy and watch it, please do. Cartoon Saloon, Tomm Moore, and Nora Twomey are some of the best things going on right now in animation, and they deserve your attention. Let’s keep up the positivity with going into June with Far East Animation Month, the now third year of tackling animation from the Far East. Next time, we will be looking at Lu Over the Wall. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials

The Other Side of Animation 122: The Breadwinner Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Warning/Heads up: There will be scenes of violence against women, guns, and blood. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the review!

One of the most recent trends that Hollywood is starting to hopefully change for the better is representation. Films like Get OutThe Big Sick, and Black Pantherare doing well, critically and financially, and while they are only a few examples, they are making sure to pave the way for more stories to be told through different perspectives. It’s something that needs to happen, and people need to learn that just because you aren’t of that character’s nationality, race, or whatever, it doesn’t mean you can’t connect to them or their struggle. Sadly, most don’t seem to understand or seem to have empathy toward hearing stories about others that they can’t relate to. This is why a film like The Breadwinnerwas important. Released back in late 2017, The Breadwinner was the newest film from Cartoon Saloon and director Nora Twomey, the director of The Secret of Kells. It was also executively produced by Angelina Jolie, and distributed by GKids. It won critical acclaim, won the Annie for Best Foreign/Indie Feature, and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards and The Golden Globes, but lost out to both awards to Coco. It sadly didn’t perform well, but thanks to being put on Netflix, people are now seeing what was subjectively the best animated film of 2017, a year that had very little competition, and you had to be on the lookout for smaller/indie viewings of the actual good movies. So, did The Breadwinner deserve to be crowned the best animated film of 2017? Well, let’s find out.

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The story revolves around a young girl named Parvana, voiced by Saara Chaudry. One day, after helping her father in the market, her father is arrested for being against the Taliban, and other false crimes. With no real man to help out Parvana and her family, consisting of her mother, baby brother, and older sister, she does what will help get her family the help and care that they need. After some failed attempts, she decides to disguise herself as a boy to get work around the city, in which she lives. Along the way, she meets some friends, and finds a way to get her father out of prison.

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What I think is the best element of the film is how real it feels. These might be 2D characters, but the way they act, talk, and interact with each other feels so grounded. Just because this is animated, it doesn’t mean it can’t bring you into a world that is accurate in depicting life different from our own. It also means that this is not an animated film for children. You will see guns fired at the lead, women getting beaten, and blood. It does not shy away about how much the country this takes place in is run by religious beliefs, and how extreme certain individuals are. However, it also doesn’t make it just a miserable and overly exaggerated version of that country. Even among the more radical individuals, there are people there that are kind, caring, and do not always side with the ones who are way too invested with their beliefs. Not everyone in this country is a monster, and this film brings humanity to the world around our lead character. Even characters that you would think were terrible, end up being more complex than you would have thought. There is a psychotic young teen that is in the film, who gets a heavy dose of reality for his loyalty to the Taliban. It could have been so easy to turn this into a propaganda-style film, but Nora and her team made sure to give the people that live there actual character.

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I haven’t even gotten to how good the animation is. While there are points where you can tell what is a CGI model, the 2D animation has more of a realistic flow to it. Yeah, they are cartoon characters, but that doesn’t mean they have to be bouncy and something more like Storks or Hotel Transylvania. It would have looked distracting, because this is a rather mature story with very mature elements. I also adored how vibrant and beautiful the film was. Sure, a lot of the color pallet was specific shades of brown, but they also threw in bright colors for clothing, spices, food, water, and that’s not even counting the beautiful 2D puppet animation. From time to time, the lead character will be telling a story that uses that style of animation. It reminds me of how the story was handled in The Fall, where the stuntman would tell the young girl a fantastical story that would mirror aspects of reality. I won’t say what happens, but both the A and B story do connect, so pay attention. I also liked the actors. I give whoever the casting director was so much credit, as he or she actually casted all middle-eastern actors. Saara Chaudry Is Parvana, and she really carries this movie. She is strong, determined, but also vulnerable. She owns this movie. However, the other actors are fantastic like Soma Bhatia, Ali Badshah, Shaista Latif, Laara Sadiq, Kawa Ada, and Noorin Gulamgaus. They all work well off each other, and make this story work.

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While I think this movie is downright amazing, and you should all watch it no matter what I criticize about it, I do have a few small criticisms. The first one is with the film’s ending. Now, it ends probably as it should, but I do wish it was more fulfilling. Like I said above, you can also sometimes tell where CGI is used, but it’s very rare.

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The Breadwinner is the best animated film of 2017 in my opinion, and one of the most important animated films of the decade. While I wish it did better at the box office, and that’s a problem GKids consistently has with their films, it’s a movie everyone needs to see. An animated film, set in the middle-east, with strong middle-eastern characters is rare, and it’s worth supporting. Of course, it’s available right now, as of writing this review, on Netflix, but I think you should support the film and GKids by buying the DVD/Blu-ray of the film. It’s a one-of-a-kind animated film that every animation fan needs to get their hands on. While I do love this movie, and everyone should go support it, they should also go support the next film that’s getting a review. Next time, we will be reviewing the new Wes Anderson animated feature, Isle of Dogs. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials