Will strong reviews push ‘Wolfwalkers’ to the front of the Oscar pack?

Wolfwalkers,” currently streaming on Apple TV Plus, comes to the Oscar race with a reservoir of good will—and strong reviews from NPR, the Los Angeles Times and other outlets. Named the best animated film of 2020 by Indie Wire, the Kilkenny-based Cartoon Studio film is the final installment of an Irish folklore trilogy about Robyn, a young apprentice hunter with more than a passing resemblance to Saoirse Ronan, and her father, Bill, who journey to Ireland to eliminate the last wolf pack.

The year is 1650, an oppressive time when English general Oliver Cromwell put the Irish in stockades. When Robyn befriends Mebh, a wild native girl from a mysterious tribe that is rumored to have the power to change into wolves when they sleep, she changes her mind, entering the strange and wonderful world of the Wolfwalkers. And, wouldn’t you know it, Mebh’s powers have a way of catching on.

The wolves serve as the essential lifeline between nature and civilization, something Cromwell seeks to destroy. Praised for its hand-drawn beauty and autumnal palette, “Wolfwalkers” offers a welcome, old-school change from the CGI aesthetic that drives many of Hollywood’s animated features.

The film, co-directed by Cartoon Saloon co-founder Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, bowed at the Toronto Film Festival and has a score of 99 percent from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. It gathers the vocal talents of Simon McBurney as Cromwell, Sean Bean (“Game of Thrones”) as Bill, Honor Kneafsey as Robyn and Eve Whittaker as Mebh. Animators who are Academy members will likely recognize the film as the culmination of the trilogy that includes “Secret of the Kells” and “Song of the Sea.”

Gold Derby experts currently have the film in second place behind Pixar’s “Soul” to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature with 37-to-10 odds. See more Oscar odds and rankings.

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