DIRECTED BY: Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
STARRING: Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan, John Morton, Jon Kenny, Nora Twomey, Oliver McGrath, Niamh Moyles and Sofia Coulais
In a time of superstition and magic, a young apprentice hunter, Robyn Goodfellowe, journeys to Ireland with her father to wipe out the last wolf pack. While exploring the forbidden lands outside the city walls, Robyn befriends a free-spirited girl, Mebh, a member of a mysterious tribe rumoured to have the ability to transform into wolves by night. As they search for Mebh’s missing mother, Robyn uncovers a secret that draws her further into the enchanted world of the wolfwalkers and risks turning into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy.
Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon return with their latest feature Wolfwalkers. Set in the mid-17th century, Kilkenny is occupied by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell’s forces. Robyn Goodfellowe and her father Bill arrive from England, with his job being to hunt down the local wolves in a nearby forest as Cromwell plans to tame what he regards as wild country. One day when exploring the forbidden lands outside the city walls, Robyn encounters Meabh, a free-spirited young girl and wolfwalker, that when she sleeps, her wolf form leaves her body and roams the land. As the two form a friendship that is soon put to the test when the lives of the wolves and wolfwalkers are threatened by the invaders.
Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, Wolfwalkers also serves as the conclusion to the studios ‘Irish Folklore’ trilogy, with the previous films being The Secret of Kells and The Song of the Sea, and while they’re separate stories, they carry similar themes. Embedded with its Celtic roots, the hand-drawn animation has a storybook style to it that makes it distinctive from the other animated studios work today, and it is beautiful to watch especially when it comes to the visual presentation of when we get to witness a wolfwalkers transformation at night and we see the world through their eyes. While still seeping in its fantastical roots, the film builds its foundations on cultural history with the English colonisation of Ireland. The films villain is Oliver Cromwell, who has the townsfolk and his soldiers refer to him as Lord Protector, is motivating his men with fear as he looks to tame the locals and the lands around them. the ‘Lord Protector’ is voiced by Simon McBurney, who seems to relish portraying such a repulsive figure who doesn’t have an ounce of compassion in him as he rules with an iron fist. So he brings in hunter and widower Bill Goodfellowe to take care of his wolf problem so he can take down the remainder of the forest in order to expand beyond the outpost, bringing his daughter Robyn with him.
It’s interesting to watch Robyn’s journey through this film as she’s an outsider coming into the outpost, being targeted by the local kids and, against her fathers wises of remaining within the outpost, her curious nature calls her to the forest where she learns upon meeting Mebh that the local legend of the wolfwalkers is true. It’s the friendship that’s struck between Robyn and Mebh that makes the film work so well, and even with Mebh’s exposition for us the audience about the wolfwalkers, it’s beautifully handled of how two outsiders can instantly connect and become catalyst of change for the better. The voice ensemble are great here such the young actresses, Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker who play Robyn and Mebh respectively, and I thought Sean Bean was great as Robyn’s father Bill, particularly in how he audibly conveyed his fears, begging his daughter to obey the Lord Protector as he tries to follow through his promise to his deceased wife of keeping their daughter safe. The only nitpick I would have in regards to the film is probably the runtime, as it takes near the halfway point of the film before the fantastical elements really kick in, but when it goes it’s beautiful to witness.
Cartoon Saloon have been slowly building a solid reputation with their animated features that they can no longer be ignored come award season and be placed as one of the best animated studios today with Wolfwalkers being their best work to date. Beautiful animation and great performances from Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean and Maria Doyle Kennedy.