Across four films, Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon has earned four Academy Award nominations, each time for Best Animated Feature. If you’ve seen even one of their films — The Secret of Kells (2009), Song of the Sea (2017), The Breadwinner (2017), Wolfwalkers (2020) — then there’s no surprise why the nomination is all but a given. Each frame is an exquisite piece of art, lovingly crafted to capture the imagination and, going further, to assist in subconsciously conveying the themes and idea within each story. Now, for the first time, the three films called the “Irish Folklore Trilogy” — The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and Wolfwalkers — are gathered for the first time in one deluxe edition package for home enjoyment via a partnership between GKids Films and Shout! Factory. That this package is the only way to own a physical copy of Wolfwalkers would be enough to make this collection noteworthy, but it also includes all the features of the prior releases, a bonus disc with entirely new bonus features, a mini-poster, and a 40-page book which includes an essay from critic Andy Crump and concept artwork.
Let’s start with the easy stuff and dig into the unknowns.
There are four discs included, three Blu-rays featuring the respective features with their bonus materials and a bonus disc Blu-ray that included materials about all three films and Cartoon Saloon itself. If you’ve owned Kells or Sea before, all of the bonus features on the prior releases are included here, too. So those discs contain nothing new. This includes the video and audio aspects: 1080p High-Definition Widescreen and English DTS-HD MA 5.1. I haven’t seen presentations for Kells or Sea outside of this set, so I can’t speak to the quality of one to the other. However, watching the films via an Xbox X and a 4K UHD television, I can say that all three of them are dazzling in their reproduction. This includes Wolfwalkers. Though that film can be enjoyed in higher quality via Apple TV+, because of data compression during streaming, the difference between the 1080p Blu-ray and the 4K stream are nominal.
As far as the container itself is concerned, the press materials indicate that it’s “made of at least 50% recycled or renewable materials that are safe and sustainable for both individuals and the environment. The soy-based inks are non-toxic and 100% biodegradable.” Considering the recurring significance of nature within each of these stories, developing packaging that would be protective to the contents, as well as being Earth-conscious, makes a great deal of sense. One of the first things I noticed when it arrived was that the outer packaging has heft and is of a nice, but not unwieldy thickness. If the discs are kept within the case, they should be fairly well protected. As other restorations or re-releases are often sold in flimsy digipacks that don’t hold up as well as standard plastics or steelbook cases (looking at you, Indiana Jones 4-Film 4K UHD Collection), that so much effort was made to craft something that will hold up is greatly appreciated as a physical media fan. Within the hard shell are three pieces: a miniposter of the artwork on the front of the package, a book, and the films in a collected package. While most will jump to the discs, make sure to read through the book. It opens with an essay from critic Andy Crump in which he discusses Cartoon Saloon’s work as a whole, reflecting on its impact to cinema. Around the essay are beautiful scenes from the various films. After the essay, the book contains concepts artwork of scenes and characters, along with brief commentary from members of Cartoon Saloon.
The final piece is, perhaps, the most important: the hard shell containing the discs. First, a word of caution: open this carefully. As can happen in transit, two of the discs did come loose and, had I been moving faster or not had it on a desk, I might have dropped them. So be careful when you open your package. On the outside of the hard shell is a lovely depiction of a forest so that it almost feels like we’re exploring a deep part of the woods in order to go on these imaginative journeys. There are four pages, each decorated to represent their film with the disc on the right side, held in place by a slightly spongey circular holder. When you remove the disc, hidden drawings from the film are revealed. Be advised that when you go to replace the disc into the container that you might need to wiggle or move the circular holder in order to make sure it inflates back to a size which will hold the disc in place.
For a full look at the inside, there’s a brief video at the bottom of this home release review where you can get a look inside at the total “Irish Folklore Trilogy” package.
With the outside covered and the prior releases addressed, let’s dig into the new stuff.
Wolfwalkers, for me, was the second-best animated film of 2020 (just behind the extraordinary Marona’s Fantastic Tale), so it was disappointing that a physical release was not likely when GKids Films partnered with Apple TV+ for its distribution as the streamers tend to prefer to use content like this as a reason for people to maintain their memberships. So, this physical release is not only a delight for myself, but for other physical media fans who have longed for it. Wonderfully, in addition to the film, owners are gifted with quite a few brand-new bonus materials. If you go to Wolfwalkers’s Apple TV+ page, the only bonus material is a brief featurette titled “A Hand-Drawn World.” In contrast, the disc included in the “Irish Folklore Trilogy” set includes more than two hours of bonus materials from interviews with the voice cast to brief discussions of the music to how they animated the “running with the wolves” scene. For fans of animation or drawing enthusiasts, there’s an hour-long video walkthrough featuring lead clean up artist Tatiana Mazzei and co-writer/co-director Tomm Moore who take you through the step-by-step process of drawing the characters from the film. As someone who participated in a live drawing demo during awards season in early 2021, the demo they provide is very accessible for those interested in picking up the skills they present and is fascinating for those who lack the skills to draw a reasonable-looking human (That’s me. I’m that person without the skills.).
The bonus disc is a similar treasure-trove of materials, but this portion is really for the folks who want a deep-dive into animation and/or Cartoon Saloon. On the fourth disc is a full feature-length animatic (re: unfinished) of each of the three films with audio commentary from Tomm Moore and guests. So that you don’t panic as I did thinking that something was wrong with my audio, the commentary on Song of the Sea doesn’t start until 2:51 minutes into the animatic. There’s also a 16-minute video essay originally from YouTuber kikirazed exploring Wolfwalkers, a reading of the Old Irish poem “Pangur Bán,” and a full television episode of the Ireland-based program SPLANC! which does a deep dive into studio Cartoon Saloon itself. In short, if you’re a big-time nerd for animation and/or Cartoon Saloon’s work, the bonus disc is going to be where you find your bliss.
As a major proponent of physical media, recommending the “Irish Folklore Trilogy” is easy to do between the robust packaging and the inclusion of Wolfwalkers on Blu-ray. But then, I don’t already own The Secret of Kells or Song of the Sea, so this set doesn’t replicate anything else in my collection already. With that in mind, if you don’t already have the other two films, the slightly prohibitive cost of $65 may seem exorbitant for just two additional discs as the special features and presentations are identical. In that case, the fact that this is the only way to own Wolfwalkers may be the deciding vote on whether to snag this or not. Taking all of this into consideration, the “Irish Folklore Trilogy” will make an excellent gift for someone who wouldn’t want to spend the money on themselves or for someone who doesn’t have any of the films already.
Cartoon Saloon Irish Folklore Trilogy Special Features:
The Secret of Kells
- Audio Commentary with Filmmakers
- Voices of Ireland
- Director’s Presentation
- Aisling at the Oscars
- Concept Trailer with commentary on
- Concept Trailer with commentary off
- U.S Theatrical Trailer
Song of the Sea
- Audio Commentary with Filmmakers
- Behind the Scenes with commentary on
- Behind the Scenes with commentary off
- The Art of Song of the Sea
- Animation Tests with commentary on
- Animation Tests with commentary off
- Conceptual Trailer
- U.S. Trailers
- Interviews with the Voice Cast (24:20)
- Voicing Wolfwalkers (3:57)
- The Music of Wolfwalkers (1:49)
- Behind “Running With The Wolves” (3:00)
- How to Draw: Wolf, Mebh, Forest Demonstrations (33:45)
- Character Design of Wolfwalkers (1:00:07)
- Wolfwalkers 2020 Comic-Con Panel (26:37)
- Conceptual Trailer (1:51)
- Behind the Scenes Trailer (2:53)
Irish Folklore Trilogy Exclusive Bonus Disc
- Song of the Sea Animatic with Director’s Commentary (1:10:44)
- The Secret of Kells Animatic with Director’s Commentary (1:28:48)
- Wolfwalkers Animatic with Director’s Commentary (1:41:54)
- Reading of “Pangur Bán” by Mick Lally (1:06)
- SPLANC!: Cartoon Saloon (27:06)
- The Two Worlds of Wolfwalkers Video Essay from kikirazed (16:00)
- U.S. Trailer (2:16)
Available from Shout! Factory December 14th, 2021.