It is always great to see more independent animation reaching mainstream screens. It may lack the big budgets of a Disney/Pixar film, but it has all the great intentions, big heart and silly fun for kids and bigger kids alike to enjoy, however generic the sum of some of its parts may be. Disney alumnus Alexs Stadermann swaps animator role for the director’s chair with animated werewolf caper 100% Wolf, complete with lively action, kick-ass hounds and delightfully oddball human beings.
13 year-old Freddy Lupin (first voiced by Jerra Wright-Smith, then Ilai Swindells) is no ordinary teen. He comes from a highly respected family of werewolves and is expected to take over the pack after its leader, his late father, is killed. His extended werewolf family is also a pack of ‘do-gooder’ superhero hounds who help fight evil and crime in the local town at night, rather than savage the local population.
Freddy’s initiation ceremony is set in front a bunch of snarling werewolf relatives, including his ruthless uncle Hotspur (voiced by Rupert Degas), but after the full moon shines on the teenager, his “transwolfation” is more werepoodle than monster. Freddy is given until the next full moon rises to prove his leadership worth, or face banishment forever. And so the ‘coming of age’ adventure begins and the making of different, new friends commences outside of his wolf world.
Fans of The Secret Life of Pets, Zootropolis and Hotel Transylvania will note plenty of comparisons, even copycat characters throughout this, which is not necessarily a bad thing as it borrows the best bits of the former and again, ends on the age-old moral of how much better the world is when different groups learn to live together in harmony. However, in terms of originality it is somewhat wanting – unless you call a werepoodle with pink hair a tad unusual.
Freddy’s origins in themselves raise not only questions within the story, but also point to a missing bit of sub-plot; we know who his heroic father, Flasheart Lupin (voiced by Jai Courtney) is, but are we to assume his mother was a poodle dog? Adults can read between the lines, but younger viewers kept asking and wanting to know more about this missing piece of the genetic puzzle that felt overlooked in the race to prove Freddy’s rightful place in the pack.
There is also the token streetwise stray called Batty in this (voiced by Samara Weaving) to help Freddy out and be ‘saved’ herself in the end. Much like Snowball the bunny in Life of Pets there is an equally hot-headed chihuahua with an inferiority complex called Twitchy (voiced by Sarah Harper) that could easily be Snowball in a dog costume. This is fun to watch all the same and witness reactions from all, especially when Freddy finally – and involuntarily – marks his territory within the kennel.
In fact, those looking for werewolf adventure will find this more canine prison (pound) break, which happens to have werewolves on the periphery. It does have some eccentric humans to enjoy, including its very own Cruella De Vil called The Commander, voiced by Glee‘s Jane Lynch, and an aging, scooter-riding housekeeper with some nifty moves. Perhaps the oddest and most frightening figure for youngsters was not a fanged beast, but an ice cream vendor called Foxwell Cripp with a creepy doll who is a werewolf hunter in his spare time and in desperate need of a friend. Rhys Darby does a great job of bringing this animated, present-day Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Child Catcher to life – plus kids always love a madcap scientist at work too.
100% Wolf has all the right elements to it, it just heavily borrows moments and characters from other bigger budget hits. This feels at best an ode to such animations, and at worse aping and unimaginative. Albeit the film is readily consumable because of the former, but a pink-haired werepoodle alone does not make things intriguing enough – even if likeable Freddy wins us all over in the end and prompts calls for Freddy the werepoodle toys from the kids.
100% Wolf is released in UK and Irish cinemas on July 31st.