Wolfwalkers premieres on Apple TV+ December 11th, 2020
The year is 1650, the place Kilkenny, Ireland, where Oliver Cromwell’s puritanical subjugation of the Irish is well underway. With villages controlled through the iron-like grip of the English, slowly growing into towns; eating the once ancient woodland around them. It is here where we meet Bill (Sean Bean) a robust, northern English man, dispatched to Kilkenny with his young daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey). His mission to rid the woods surrounding the growing settlement of the native wolf; a creature seen as a vicious predator and pest. While at the same time keeping his only daughter safe from harm, in a town where life is harsh and unforgiving. But, despite this Robyn is desperate to join her father on the wolf hunt; training with her bow and arrow at every given opportunity.
However, deep in the forests surrounding the village, ancient magic survives in the soul of a mother and her young daughter. For they are Wolfwalkers; humans who can transform into wolves, their gifts embedded in a need to heal and protect the forest. While also ensuring their pack thrives, its heritage protected from the human need for growth. But, as the Lord Protector announces “That which cannot be tamed, must be destroyed“, and the villagers fear the borders of their realm. Can a lonely and isolated young wolfwalker Mebh (Eva Whittaker), and the daughter of a hunter, create union over destruction? And can a town once more embrace and accept the magic of the lands surrounding them?
From the Kilkenny based studio of Cartoon Saloon, the creative force behind The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner. Wolfwalkers is as beautiful as it is engaging and thoughtful. The artistry at play wrapping the audience in a stunning painting that often feels like a living and breathing watercolour. Here, there are no CGI tricks, no ultra-real backdrops or effects-laden action. Instead, Wolfwalkers is a sublime hand-drawn piece of classic animation, with its adventure-laden story and full-bodied characters sitting centre stage. In a journey that beats with the importance of diversity, humanity and acceptance. While at the same time providing a light but equally powerful commentary on the subjugation of Ireland and its cultural heritage under Cromwell.
The result is a film where every scene is thoughtful, and every character bold and engaging, alongside an intelligent and accessible narrative. And while many will understandably compare the movie with the work of Japans Studio Ghibli. Wolfwalkers is rooted in Irish folklore and art; both otherworldly, delicate and yet substantial in scope and vision. An almost dreamlike beauty surrounding every frame on the screen. And while it may form the third act in Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s folklore journey began in 2009. Their confidence in the themes and ideas they wish to purvey has grown with each movie since. Culminating in Wolfwalkers feeling like their strongest outing yet.
But, maybe the most endearing factor at play, is the beauty of the hand-drawn animation at its heart. And the ability to create a journey rooted in dreams, humanity and nature. In turn, making Wolfwalkers one of the strongest animated films of the year. Its classical structure surrounded by the intelligence of a screenplay that plays to all ages. All from a studio that continues to grow in confidence and artistry. While at the same time, providing a home to classic animation, when many others have moved into a computer-generated world.
Read more reviews from BFI London Film Festival here
Read more from Apple TV + here