Dept. of Ruaille Buaille


I’ll probably have my Irish passport revoked for this but I’ve not (yet) seen either The Secret of Kells or Song of the Sea, the previous, Oscar nominated, animated features by Irish studio Cartoon Saloon. Based upon the studio’s reputation, I thought I knew what to expect with their latest feature animation Wolfwalkers.

I figured a gorgeous blend of traditional 2D animation was on the cards, intertwined with a mix of Irish culture and history. The film’s opening in Cartoon Saloon’s home city of Kilkenny, albeit in 1650, seemed to bear this out but the focus on English planters as the central characters, colonising the country after Cromwell’s conquest, was wholly unexpected.  

While resisting efforts to settle into a walled-in life in the walled city, young Robyn Goodfellowe ventures into the big wide world to prove to her father that she is more than capable of joining him in hunting the local wolves. Almost immediately she’s proven wrong as she injures her beloved hawk, Merlyn, during a wolf attack, and he’s taken away by a flame haired girl. Despite orders to return to town from the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) and her father (Sean Bean), Robyn escapes to find Merlyn, only to find something altogether more unexpected, Mebh, a Wolfwalker!

The Unlikeliest Friendship

What starts as an entrancing Fox and the Hound style clash of city and country, develops into a fight for personal freedoms against forced submission to wrongful authority, all told though a beautiful artwork style.

Though not based upon any legend that I grew up with, the Wolfwalkers of the title are able to assume wolf form and command their pack, but in a far more fun and empowering manner than most cinematic portrayals of Werewolves.

It’s a cliché, but literally every frame of this film is a painting, with a unique style applied to the worlds of the characters. Viewed from the woods, the walled city of Kilkenny squats as a rectangle in the background, almost in plan view, an affront to the storybook whorls and curves of the woods. The angled design of Robyn herself contrasting against Mebh’s blob of red hair and manic energy.

The surprises don’t stop with the unexpected choice of central characters. The relationship between Robyn and Mebh manages to avoid, or skip entirely, the usual tropes of unlikely friendships. A major plot point is apparently disregarded before returning later in a delightful way. Yet another, seemingly major plot point, isn’t dragged out but instead reaches a partial resolution almost immediately, before the film moves in a different, but related direction. All of this is achieved organically, so it feels fresh without feeling forced, or disjointed.

By Gum

As is to be expected by now, Sean Bean provides the perfect stern-but-fair-but-dealing-with-a-lot-right-now father figure with Simon McBurney’s officious Lord Protector, eliciting just the right kind of ire. Irish comedian, and the put upon dad from Derry Girls, Tommy Tiernan, delivers a nicely demented – if small – role as a town local. But the film belongs to the voice work by young Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker, who play Robyn and Mebh respectively.

Like the design of the characters, Robyn’s mannered English and Mebh’s free flowing Irish brogue, intercut with Irish language and slang, beautifully mirrors the girls situations. I grinned like a fool every time Mebh referred to Robyn as a “townie,” a favoured insult of my youth. My heart nearly broke hearing her utter the words “Mo cara,” but you don’t need to have any familiarity with the Irish language, Ireland (or wolves) to enjoy this film.

The Goggler Podcast

Not Just For the Irish

For those thinking of watching the film with very young ones, bear in mind that despite the relative lack of harm that befalls most of the characters, Wolfwalkers has been rated PG by the BBFC as there are some scenes of “mild threat” that *I* found relatively unsettling.

For those allergic to such things, the film does feature a song or two but it’s not a musical, and when the songs are such absolute bangers like Aurora’s Running with the Wolves, they only add to the experience. 

It may not be Christmas themed but Wolfwalkers is a perfect film to share with your family this Christmas.

103 Minutes
Directors: Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
Writers: Jericca Cleland and Will Collins
Story: Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
Cast: Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Tommy Tiernan, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Nora Twomey, Oliver McGrath, and Simon McBurney

Wolfwalkers comes to Apple TV+ on Friday, 11th December.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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