“Wolfwalkers” review: Ireland’s finale to one of the greatest unofficial trilogies


Photo Credit - Apple TV+ website

Apple TV+ displays artwork for the latest addition in their animation section, Wolfwalkers.

The 2020 decade so far has not had the biggest lineup of animated films, especially during the pandemic and on-demand releases. There have been the occasional Walt Disney Animated Studios films such as “Raya and the Last Dragon” and Pixar films such as “Onward” and “Soul.” Although, another highly praised Oscar nominee came out last December from the Irish animation studio, Cartoon Saloon titled, “Wolfwalkers.” Receiving mass critical acclaim, the end of Tomm Moore’s Irish folklore trilogy proved to be an excellent feature and welcome addition to the studio.

Set in ancient Ireland, the film follows a young girl named Robyn who moves to Kilkenny with her father, Bill Goodfellowe, on a mission to terminate any wolves in sight. While following her father, Robyn encounters a forest led by a rebellious girl named Mebh and her wolf pack. Robyn finds out that Mebh is a “wolfwalker” which is said by many people to be a human in the form of a wolf spirit once fallen asleep. The two girls form an unlikely friendship as Mebh turns Robyn into a wolfwalker herself and remain close while dealing with the tyranny of the Lord Protector.

From the setup, this movie would seem very conventional because many people have heard this sort of plot before. I’m not going to deny, that’s what it felt like from time to time because the friendship of Robyn and Mebh reminded me a lot of the two main characters from “The Fox and the Hound.”  Not to mention, there is an environmental message about the conflict between humans and wolf creatures like in Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke.” Just replace Japanese mythology with Irish folklore. 

However, even with how conventional the film sounded from the start, I had faith from Cartoon Saloon to see what direction they will take to conclude their Irish Folklore Trilogy. After all, they are one of the last animation studios to still use traditional animation and I can definitely say Tomm Moore delivered on all promises. 

The animation in the film is breathtaking to witness, perfectly capturing the calming yet sinister tone of Ireland. Perhaps the most beautiful scene in the film is when Robyn and Mebh, in their wolf spirit forms, run across the entire forest. I love that this scene speaks for itself without much dialogue and letting the beautiful 2-D animation unfold especially during the night accompanied by AURORA’s music. 

The story is well executed even though I’ve seen films with very similar premises before. I deeply cared and rooted for the two main characters ever since their first playful encounter. The two girls are polar opposites with Robyn being curious, concerned and a little more calm compared to Mebh’s wild personality. Their friendship is the real driving force of the narrative and if they don’t succeed then the whole film falls apart. Luckily, they try their best to support each other even when things don’t go as planned. 

This being a PG animated family film, there are some funny, charming, and sentimental moments that will have many laughing, crying, or thrilled. One of the most touching moments throughout the film is when Mebh tells Robyn her mother’s past and that she’s still out there waiting to reunite. Something about the way Mebh tells Robyn seems very emotional considering Robyn also lost her mom.

The film features a good commentary on man, or in this case humans, versus the forces of nature. Throughout the film, Bill is convinced that the wolves are a danger to Ireland and they could harm Robyn. Although, near the third act, he starts to realize the only reason he felt that way was because of the Lord Protector’s tyrannical demands after being healed.

While watching the film, I don’t necessarily blame why the Lord Protector or Bill felt this way because in real life, there were serious discussions and theories about wolves being a danger to ancient Ireland. During the 17th century, exactly when the film takes place in, the English were the ones who wanted to exterminate the population of wolves rather than the Irish. People from Ireland saw them as natural creatures that only harmed if someone attacked them.

Stories from ancient Ireland mythology also reveal that the names of wolves correlate to shapeshifting into other creatures or forms which explains why Robyn and Mebh’s transformations while sleeping.

As an Irish director such as Moore, his incorporation of Irish mythology blended beautifully and it helped rediscover what wolves really meant in Ireland to the characters. Even though Bill and Robyn are English people who moved to Ireland, it was nice that they were able to see the light which not many were willing to do.

The voice cast did an amazing job playing their roles even though many of their names are relatively unknown here in the United States outside of maybe Sean Bean who plays Bill. The two Irish/British girls who played Robyn and Mebh were great despite not being in a lot of mainstream animated films or projects. 

Overall, there aren’t many problems with the film that I, or even anyone can say about this film. “Wolfwalkers” is truly a work of art and a film people should watch at this very moment on Apple TV+. Even though a friendship like this has been shown before, I have never been this invested in a duo in a very long time. Yes, even more than Joe and 22 in “Soul.”

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 99% and an IMDb score of 8.1/10. Just last April, the film was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards but ultimately lost to Pixar which isn’t surprising. Nonetheless, the praise from critics, audience, and even the Academy prove that “Wolfwalkers” is yet another home-run for Cartoon Saloon.