With the dazzling animated fairy tale Wolfwalkers, expect Irish animation house Cartoon Saloon to keep intact its well-deserved streak of earning an Oscar nomination for every feature film its made.
The Kilkenny-based studio that previously released co-founder Tomm Moore’s stunning The Secret of Kells (2010) and Song of the Sea (2015) and co-founder Nora Twomey’s beautifully bittersweet The Breadwinner (2017) has lovingly crafted another painterly instant classic.
As with The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, Moore and co-director Ross Stewart has created another beautifully rendered animated adventure based on Irish folklore and history with Wolfwalkers.
Set in 1650, Wolfwalkers takes place in in the county of Kilkenny in a walled Irish city under oppressive English rule in the midst of the wilderness. Newcomer and English lass Robyn Goodfellowe (voice of Honor Kneafsey) longs to leave behind kitchen duty and join her father, Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean), on his daily duties as the town’s designated wolf hunter.
When Robyn sneaks into the woods after her father, she discovers that the legends whispered among the townsfolk are true: There are wolfwalkers, magical and enigmatic people who take on wolf form while their human bodies sleep, in the deep forests surrounding the town.
Robyn confirms the myths are fact when she encounters Mebh (Eva Whittaker), the wolfwalker girl who has been leading the local wolf pack since her mother’s wolf form left to seek out a new, safer home. The girls become fast friends, and Robyn vows to explain to her father that he doesn’t need to kill the wolves since they are planning to leave.
But parents aren’t always so willing to listen to their children’s seeming flights of fantasy, especially since Goodfellowe is under strict orders from the town’s fanatical, tyrannical ruler, Lord Protector (Simon McBurney), to kill all the wolves or face grave consequences. Lord Protector believes that taming or destroying wolves will prove that Ireland and its people can be tamed, too.
Like Moore’s previous Irish cinematic fables, Wolfwalkers is undoubtedly one of the most visually striking films of the year. The backgrounds and characters are like exquisitely crafted medieval tapestries, while the way that the wolfwalkers “see” smells and sounds is depicted in vivid watercolor flourishes.
His third feature also explores similar timeless themes: The importance of family and friendship, the power and mystery of nature and the intersection of history and myth.
Although werewolf movies have been around since the early days of motion pictures, Wolfwalkers is unlike any other you’ve ever seen – and not just because of the gorgeous animation. Watching the storytelling unfold is truly a cinematic delight for all ages.
Wolfwalkers is playing in select theaters and will premiere on Apple TV+ on Dec. 11.