Wolfwalkers

Wolfwalkers

2020, PG, 103 min. Directed by Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart. Voices by Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan, Maria Doyle Kennedy.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 13, 2020

To belong. That's the theme at the heart of Wolfwalkers, the extraordinary third film in Tomm Moore's loose trilogy of tales based on aspects of Irish folklore. Yet the heroine is from the other side of the Irish Sea. Robyn Goodfellowe (voiced by Kneafsey) is aptly named, a tip o' the hat to the helpful if willful spirit of English folklore, but she's a long way from her Yorkshire home. That location is never explicitly stated, but implicit in her accent and reinforced by Sean Bean as her father, Bill, a widowed English hunter brought to Ireland by the Lord Protector (McBurney). That would be Eire's old nemesis, Oliver Cromwell (although that cursed name is never spoken), who rules with a dictatorial iron fist and has charged Bill Goodfellowe with ridding the forest of wolves so it can be tamed as farmland.

Yet Robyn's new and only friend has other plans. Mebh (Whittaker) is a wolfwalker. Not a werewolf, with all the curse that implies, but one who leaves their sleeping human form behind at night to run with the wolves. It is a glorious existence, not a netherworld but one of different lights and shadows. The downside is that if body and spirit are separated, the sleeper cannot awaken, and Mebh's mammy is missing, while the pack is menaced more than ever by hunters like Robyn's father.

Following on from The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, Wolfwalkers is the third and – believe it – pinnacle of animation studio Cartoon Saloon and Moore's work. Every frame looks completely unique because Moore and first-time co-director Ross Stewart create a spectrum of shape and color. At one extreme there are the rigid lines and deep hues of dictatorship: The Lord Protector himself looks like he was assembled like stained glass, a dictator who stands in sin with Disney's Judge Claude Frollo and Archibald Snatcher in Laika's The Boxtrolls as a depiction of authoritarian malice. That design ethos is why the first sight of Robyn sees her constrained under the geometric arch of her hood. At the other is the wolf world, a pastel chalk flow of curves and swoops, perpetually in motion. Yet the world is not binary, never simply one or the other, but a continuum with aspects of both in so many characters. Nor do the artists simply modernize a vision of ancient Celtic art for the designs, instead integrating elements of the Arts and Crafts Movement that were influenced by historic Irish art. William Morris spills through as much as Hanna-Barbera, and there is plenty of comedy woven in to the dramatic fabric. It's Moore's most universally accessible story, and parents worried about this being just some cute fairytale (hah! like that's never enough for a story); it's also a heartwarming story of family and friendship, a family-friendly examination of the horror of repression, a bracing adventure about two girls finding themselves, and a stealth art history lesson.

So many strands, and when the full tapestry is unfurled, its captivating, beautiful, thrilling, and entrancing patterns are revealed. Wolfwalkers stands proud as a new classic.

Wolfwalkers is in theaters now from GKids, and romps on to Apple TV+ on Dec. 11.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Tomm Moore Films
Song of the Sea
From the director of The Secret of Kells comes this lovely work of animation about the Celtic selkies.

Steve Davis, Feb. 20, 2015

The Secret of Kells
This animated Irish stunner is visually complex and colorful and was a contender this year for the best animated film Oscar.

Marjorie Baumgarten, May 7, 2010

More by Richard Whittaker
The Liminal Lone Star State: Iliana Sosa’s El Paso in <i>God Save Texas</i>
The Liminal Lone Star State: Iliana Sosa’s El Paso in God Save Texas
HBO docuseries screens at AFS Cinema this weekend

March 1, 2024

Opera Fights, Puppet Plays, and More Arty Events
Opera Fights, Puppet Plays, and More Arty Events
Get an arts fix this week

March 1, 2024

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Wolfwalkers, Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle