Not quite a werewolf story and not exactly one dealing with skinwalkers, directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart have created a successful Celtic-inspired animated tale in Wolfwalkers.
The third installment of Moore’s “Irish Folklore Trilogy” takes place in Kilkenny, Ireland, during a time of sorcery, magic and strong superstitions. Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell hopes to tame a wild land, along with its people. Wolf attacks are declared Public Enemy No. 1 by the English statesman, followed closely by “pagan nonsense.” But it seems there may be more than meets the eyes to these predators.
Ancient traditions explain that there are humans among us who can transform into wolves whenever they fall asleep. And it is only these “wolfwalkers” who can create others, with a mere bite. Dismissed as pure witchcraft, wolfwalkers aren’t taken seriously by the Lord Protector until the den of the last wolf pack is threatened.
Young Mebg (voiced by Eva Whittaker) is much closer to being a wildling than an obedient young lady. She quickly becomes friendly with Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), a young hunter who unknowingly departs her cooped-up life when she enters a fantastic world with a mere flesh wound. To add insult to injury, her father has been tasked to kill every single wolf. This obviously complicates their father-daughter dynamics.
I absolutely loved the lush landscapes. It looks like the entire film is created by hand-drawn cels, even if they aren’t. The animation style is incredibly unique and a joy to watch. The only quibble I had involved the father’s storyline, Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean). Unfortunately, this was mostly a one-note character. He didn’t get much of a development arc, always going on and on about following rules and orders, quickly getting annoyingly preachy. A little of that goes a long way.
With a movie like this, of course there had to be “wolf consultants,” but I really liked the dynamics of the animals interacting with the human hybrids.
This past awards season, Wolfwalkers seemed to appear out of nowhere, receiving a ton of critical acclaim. Winning five Annie Awards, four Irish Animation Awards and a Hollywood Critics Association Award, it was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award, but ultimately lost out to Pixar’s Soul.
If this movie had been released at any other time in history, it probably would have had a better chance at winning that Oscar. Too bad it was released during the worldwide pandemic, while practically every major movie theater chain was shuttered. Instead, it received a digital release on Apple TV+ which doesn’t really have a great number of subscribers. That couldn’t have helped its mainstream awards prospects. Hopefully, as time passes, the film will receive more kudos as its audience grows.
Tomm Moore has mentioned his reluctance in creating any sequels to his past works, but leaves that possibility open-ended for the future. For now, the Wolfwalkers story has ended, but the filmmaker’s feat of creating a modern-day tale is a legendary feat.
I highly encourage you to watch this great animated feature film.