Wolfwalkers is the incredible new animated film from Irish directors Ross Stewart & Tomm Moore. It is nominated for a 2021 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. Wolfwalkers is the third installment in Moore’s thematically-linked “Irish Folklore Trilogy”. The previous two films in the series, Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells, were also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature Film.
Wolfwalkers tells the tale of Robyn Goodfellowe, a young apprentice hunter, who journeys to Ireland in the early 1600’s with her father Bill. He is hired to help wipe-out the last wolf pack. Everything changes when Robyn befriends a young girl from a mysterious forest-dwelling tribe rumored to transform into wolves by night.
There are two relationships at the center of the story. One is between rebellious Robyn and her often overbearing father Bill. Their bond develops and matures over the course of the movie, as each of them eventually gains a better understanding of the other. The other key relationship is between Robyn and Mebh, the girl she meets in the forest. Wolfwalkers tells a beautiful tale of female friendship developing between people from two different worlds.
The film was produced by Cartoon Saloon, and if you are new to their animation style, you are in for a treat. Wolfwalkers was made using unique hand-drawn animation over the course of several years. The amount of work that goes into a single minute of animation is staggering, and the viewer can really tell that the animators put a great deal of care and creativity into every moment of the movie. The hand-drawn style is reminiscent of Disney animated films from the 60’s and 70’s, when you could sometimes see pencil lines made by the animators. This somewhat rough appearance gives the film more depth and character, as opposed to the perfection and polish often associated with modern computer-generated animation films.
Wolfwalkers is paradoxically modern and traditional in its visual splendor and storytelling elements. It incorporates aspects of Irish folklore and mythology, most of which is probably lost on most viewers, myself included. For example, the character of Mebh is named after Queen Medb, buried atop a mountain in Ireland. Robyn is named after a famous English fairy.
Wolfkwalkers is a movie that can be enjoyed by viewers of all ages. History enthusiasts will enjoy the parallels to colonialism, specifically the suppression of Irish people by Oliver Cromwell and the British during the 17th Century. Parents watching the film will identify with the parental figures doing anything they can to protect their children, while kids might identify with the feeling of being misunderstood or ignored by adults. The opposition between the way children and adults see the world is one of the central ideas of the story. The child’s perspective is one colored with curiosity and open-mindedness while the adults in the story are operating under fear, assumptions, and judgment.
Oppositional forces are frequently at play in this movie, namely through the theme of society versus nature. There are two central locations in the movie, the city and the forest, and each of them represents the larger concepts of civilization and nature.
The forest scenes are animated using curves and circular patterns, and this location is depicted as possessing magic, freedom, and fluidity. Oftentimes, the wolfpack appears to move in unison, each wolf a piece of the whole. Their collective movements look like running water. The city scenes are animated using straight lines almost exclusively, and this rigidity is reflective of the prison-like feeling of being trapped that Robyn often experiences.
Wolfwalkers is unlike any animated film, and offers a refreshing change of pace and style from the majority of animated films released this century. The only parallel might be the mature themes and unique imagery present in the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. The visuals in Wolfwalkers are mesmerizing, and the story is deeply resonant. The film will leave you entertained and intellectually stimulated. I highly recommend it.
Wolfwalkers can currently be streamed on Apple TV+.
Bobby Styles studied Film at UCLA, and worked as an editor and producer on several film, commercial, and music video projects in Los Angeles. He currently teaches the intermediate and advanced Video Production courses in the Multimedia & Technology Academy at Monache High School. His column appears in The Recorder every Tuesday.