Welcome to Thanks, I Love It, our series highlighting something onscreen we’re obsessed with this week.
Wolfwalkers, an animated fantasy that just landed on Apple TV+, is unique in more ways than one.
The film, which is a joint effort from Cartoon Saloon and Mélusine — studios most famous for producing the Academy Award-nominated Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner — follows a free-spirited girl named Robyn who has just moved from England to Ireland with her father in 1650. His goal? To help Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell exterminate the wolves in the forest so that the woodcutters can resume their work uninterrupted. The problem? After Robyn befriends Mebh, a Wolfwalker girl who has the ability to shapeshift into a wolf during her sleep, she must stop her father and Cromwell from wiping out the creatures.
This mythical story is filled with interesting twists and turns that keep it feeling fresh throughout its over an hour-and-a-half runtime. However, the biggest thing that kept my eyes glued to the screen was the movie’s stunning aesthetics. Here’s how Wolfwalkers uses its distinctive animation style to better tell its whimsical tale and demand all attention in the process.
The 2D animation cements the setting
In a time when computer-animation is the standard, it’s refreshing to watch a movie that fully embraces its 2D world. Wolfwalkers is beautifully illustrated with drawings that look like they could have been ripped straight out of a storybook. While any film could technically adapt this artistic style, Wolfwalkers’ setting feels especially fit for traditional animation.
As mentioned, Wolfwalkers takes place in a mythical mid-1700s Ireland. Sure, there are other animations set in the past that look gorgeous as digital animations, like 2013’s Frozen. But Frozen, despite being set in a kingdom inspired by 1840s Norway, still has a modern feel. Wolfwalkers does not.
While there’s nothing particularly wrong with blending the old and the new, Wolfwalkers‘ choice to forgo a popular, contemporary animation style gives it strong historical vibes despite the story being rooted in fantasy. Really leaning into the worldbuilding like this helps set it apart from the competition. Plus, the hand-drawn world is absolutely gorgeous.
The colors create the mood
It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the warmth of Wolfwalker‘s stunning color palette, which creates a visual divider between the story’s good and evil characters.
When Robyn is busy exploring the woods and befriending Mebh, she’s greeted by rich autumn oranges, reds, and greens. These colors exude life and magic, giving the forest a vibrant, welcoming feel that starkly contrasts the muted appearance of the town. The scarier moments on the other hand, like when Robyn is forced to confront the Lord Protector when he’s enacting his evil plans, are covered in a sea of dark reds, grays, and purples. These shades evoke a sense of terror and dread.
Because the colors match the emotions of each scene, viewers are fully immersed in the events that play out before them. This color-coding technique is just as narratively helpful as it is pretty.
The lines divide the magical world from the common one
Robyn’s Irish town is unexciting to her. Before she learns of the Wolfwalkers, she wants to join her father on his hunt rather than staying behind. But even after Robyn meets Mebh, she still wants to journey into the forest to embrace the freedom lying outside the town’s walls. Yes, the colors separate these two worlds — the ordinary one and the magical one — but so do the lines.
The town is made up of straight strokes, scattered dashes, and smoothed angled. It’s simple and uncomplicated, unlike everything the magic interacts with. The forest where Mebh lives, for example, is filled with swirly trees and vines that twist into existence. When Robyn begins seeing the world through a wolf’s eyes, her own vision overflows with fluid, energetic golden lines that represent the enchantment.
In the Wolfwalkers universe, motion equals magic. When viewers spot lines that flow, they’re given a clue that mystical things lie nearby and they should therefore anticipate coming wonders.
Wolfwalkers didn’t have to carefully fill its hand-drawn animations with vibrant colors and detailed strokes, but in doing so, its meaningful story carries an even heavier weight. Here’s to all the animators who found a way to weave the narrative through the visuals.
Wolfwalkers is available to stream now on Apple TV+.