Full Moon Features: Wolf Children (2012) & Tales of the Night (2011)

What happens when a young woman and a lanky werewolf fall in love? Why, they make Wolf Children, of course! Co-written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the 2012 animated feature only spends about 20 minutes on the courtship of university student Hara and the Wolf Man of her dreams, who works as a mover. In that time, they meet (in one of her courses, which he is auditing unofficially), get to know each other, share their secrets (his is the real whopper, as you might imagine), and build a life together. That includes having children, but not long after the birth of their second he gets himself killed, leaving Hara alone to care for their feral offspring and forcing her to move out of the city, away from all the prying eyes and meddling social workers.

Of course, even in the country with no neighbors for miles around, Hara and her children — tomboy Yuki and shy boy Ame — are the subject of gossip, and she has to prove herself capable of putting in the work before they’ll teach her even the rudiments of farming. She also has to get used to the idea of letting her children go out into the world because it isn’t long before Yuki is insisting on being allowed to go to elementary school, which Hara only agrees to after making her promise not to wolf out in front of the other children. As for Ame, he learns a valuable lesson when he comes face to face with a timber wolf in captivity and finds it has no wisdom to pass on to him. That, he surmises, is what happens when you let human society keep you caged up. No wonder he ultimately chooses a different path for himself.

Considering how much leeway animation gives filmmakers, especially when it comes to realizing tricky things like character transformations, it’s surprising how few animated films there are about werewolves and shapeshifters. What’s not surprising, though, is how the small number that do exist are dominated by family-friendly fare like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, WolfWalkers, and the Hotel Transylvania series. They’re also rarely the focus of the stories, with a rare exception being Michel Ocelot’s 2011 French anthology Tales of the Night, which is bookended by tales of transformation, the first of which is called “Night of the Werewolf.”

The wraparound segments consist of an old animator and his two young helpers, Théo and Annie, who propose story ideas to each other and then decide which parts they’re going to play, how they’re going to be costumed, and so forth. So, for example, when Théo says, “Let’s suppose I’m a werewolf,” the ensuing discussion results in a story about a young loup-garou who becomes engaged to the older of two sisters who proves her lack of worth by betraying him the moment she learns his secret. Happily, the younger sister is able to restore him to his human form and even accepts him for the part-time beast that he is. From there, Ocelot travels to the Caribbean, the Aztec empire, an African village and the mountains of Tibet, doubling back to medieval France for “The Young Doe and the Architect’s Son,” in which a young woman is cursed by an ogre of a sorcerer when she refuses to marry him. When the young lover who helped her escape from his clutches believes she’s been turned into a doe, he seeks the help of a fairy, but the solution turns out to have been right under his nose the whole time.

One thing that helps Tales of the Night stand out is its distinctive look, which recalls Ocelot’s early work with silhouette animation. Even if he’s using computers to bring his characters to life, when the results are this charming it doesn’t matter how the magic is accomplished. And his habit of highlighting ancient stories and legends of different cultures is a handy reminder that everything old can be made new again with a dash of creativity.