Wolfwalkers is the latest animated offering from Irish based studio, Cartoon Saloon. I’m actually ashamed to say that before watching Wolfwalkers, I was pretty unfamiliar with their previous Irish folklore offerings – The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014) – but having seen this latest animated feature, it’s a mistake that I will be looking to correct as quickly as possible.
Wolfwalkers is set in Kilkenny, Ireland (which is also the home of Cartoon Saloon!) during the 17th century. Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) has moved from Yorkshire with her father, Bill (Sean Bean) to the walled town, where Bill has been tasked by the rather menacing Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) to clear the surrounding forest of wolves. Once the forest is clear, the woodsmen can fell the trees and the farmers can start working the land.
There are signs everywhere, throughout the town and pinned to trees in the forest, showing a snarling wolf with a red cross drawn over it. A wolf attack on some woodsmen early on shows us just how dangerous the wolves are, and also introduces us to the Wolfwalkers that walk among them. With blazing eyes and fiery red hair, the Wolfwalkers are able to communicate with and control the wolves, calling them off their attacks on the humans. They also appear to possess magical healing abilities, using them to heal a wolf scratch on the chest of one of the men.
Robyn has dreams of following in her father’s footsteps and becoming a hunter as she practices her crossbow skills. So rather than work all day in the scullery, she decides to slip past the guards at the outer gate (no children are allowed beyond the town walls) and secretly follow her father out into the forest, watching him as he sets traps for the wolves. When she comes face to face with a wolf, it’s much smaller and a lot cuter than the ones we’ve seen before, and Robyn learns that it is, in fact, a young Wolfwalker named Mebh.
Robyn forms a bond with Mebh and discovers that when the Wolfwalkers sleep, they assume the body of a wolf, leaving their human body to sleep until they return in order to wake it up. Mebh is worried because her mother has been asleep for some time and her wolf form has not yet returned. Robyn learns that the Wolfwalkers are simply trying to defend the animals from the modern world that is encroaching on their forest and Robyn vows to help find her mother. A difficult task when the Lord Protector has given her father 2 days to clear the forest of wolves, and he isn’t listening to his daughter as she pleads with him to stop.
I found Wolfwalkers to be simply wonderful, with a captivating story full of twist and turns for both kids and adults to enjoy. It’s beautiful to look at too, utilising a watercolour style with rough pencil sketches visible in most of the characters and scenery only adding to its visual appeal. I was completely taken by surprise and just couldn’t fault it.