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‘Wolfwalkers’ (review)

Produced by Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey,
Paul Young, Stéphan Roelants

Screenplay by Will Collins
Directed by Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart
Featuring Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker,
Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan,
Jon Kenny, John Morton, Maria Doyle Kennedy


Wolfwalkers is an animated film that can help cure the Quarantine Blues.

Not since The Lion King have magnificent beasts told such a heartfelt story for all ages. Fans of The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea will recognize co-director Tomm Moore’s signature as he is joined by art director Ross Stewart to share the marquee credit.

Set in 1650’s Ireland, Wolfwalkers tells the story of Robyn Goodfellowe, her father, and the mysterious wolf pack plaguing her walled-in township.

Or is it the other way around?

Do the town and the evil Lord Protector endanger the existence of the dark forest and the creatures that live there?

The animation style is unlike we’ve been treated to before. A mixture of woodblock with hand drawn animation, pen and ink, and watercolor styles is drawn at times with and an irresistible symmetry sure to bowl over animation and comics fans.

Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) practices her crossbow as her father Bill (Sean Bean) is off to work hunting wolves for the nefarious Lord Protector. She’s warned not to head to the woods where her father works, but steals off anyway. There, she encounters danger, and Mebh Óg MacTíre. Mebh is no ordinary friend, she commands a pack of wolves and also attacks Robyn. Mebh is a Wolfwalker, a girl in human form in the day but has the power to transform into a wolf at night while her human body sleeps.

Robyn gets in trouble with her father and is condemned to live the life of Cinderella as a scullery maid. She’s unable to help her new friend Mebh find her lost mother and the townspeople and Lord Protector are bent on destroying the forest and the wolves. As mischief goes, both Robyn and Mebh do eventually reconnect when Robyn finds that Mebh’s mother has been trapped and tamed by Lord Protector. Things get scary when wolves and Wolfwalkers invade the town and Goodfellowe himself is charged with defending the township.

The movie illustrates the encroachment of the township on the lives of creatures in the forest, specifically the wolves. While certainly not a Disney or even an Illumination Entertainment movie, nods to Bambi, Brave, and The Lion King abound thematically, but not stylistically.

The look of this movie is astounding and beautiful in the way that fans of original drawings and certain ’70s animation will love. It’s not a clean line, lots of woodcuts but when we get a wolves-eye-view of tramping through the forest, one falls into a dream state. Wolfwalkers signature animation style is credited to the three-time Academy Award nominated studio Cartoon Saloon (The Breadwinner, Song of The Sea, The Secret of Kells).

There is plenty of humor to go with the loving themes of family in this movie. Robyn and Mebh’s relationship goes through a rollercoaster, but in the end, friendship wins. The supernatural elements blend in well with the fur and steel realism of the Irish township of Kilkenny (the real life home of Cartoon Saloon). Another shout out should go to the spectacular score by Bruno Coulais (Coraline) that sets the scene for being in Ireland while also trilling and fluting romps through the forest.

While we haven’t seen many films (certainly in the theatre this year), this will make it into my best movie of the year picks. I have not seen The Secret of Kells, but I will now seek it out retroactively. This was a really great and fanatical story that should appeal to kids and adults around the world. There is a subtext of environmental activism, but also really great themes of friendship and a bad guy you love to hate. Lord Protector is more of an outright Scar than he is a bumbling Lord Maximus Farquaad, but you really come to hate the guy in the castle that everyone is forced to listen to.

Robyn and Mebh are adorable in human or wolf form, and if this is a real Irish fairy tale, I don’t know if it. One thing is for sure, Wolfwalkers should be required annual watch for the holidays with a slice of pumpkin pie and a hot cup of cocoa.

Wolfwalkers is in theaters now and premieres on Apple TV+ on December 11



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