The festive season is usually a prime time for family movie spectaculars, and Apple’s streaming service is offering the highly anticipated new film Wolfwalkers from Cartoon Saloon, the company behind Song of The Sea (2014) and The Breadwinner (2017).
Wolfwalkers is an animated fantasy set in 17th Century Ireland, in a city occupied the English army and their cruel leader The Lord Protector (voiced by Simon McBurney). A young English girl named Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) struggles to fit in after moving to the city with her father (Sean Bean), a hunter for the army charged with clearing the nearby woods of wolves.
One day, when Robyn follows her father out to the woods, she meets Wolfwalker Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a young Irish girl who lives with a pack of wolves and can change into one when she sleeps. As her father and The Lord Protector draw near, Robyn must find a way to protect her new friends from being wiped out.
As you would expect from the studio’s previous work, the film is a wonder to behold. Animated like a medieval Celtic painting come to life, the hand drawn visuals mix the grey of the city walls with the vibrant green of the forest, creating a world where magic and reality live side-by-side. This is accompanied by a deceptively sophisticated story, which features so much beneath the surface.
There is astute commentary on colonialism, where the occupying forces impose their way of living on a resentful population. There’s also an interesting exploration of religious zealotry in the form of The Lord Protector, a portrayal of Oliver Cromwell. McBurney’s dour tones portray a man convinced he is an instrument of God, therefore justifying the many acts of cruelty he inflicts on those around him.
At its heart, it is also a story of a girl fighting to do the right thing. There’s a hint of Brave’s Merida and Moana in Robyn, a young woman who craves adventure and rallies against the restrictions put on her gender. Kneafsey and Whittaker make a wonderful duo, rooting the adventure with a child-like wonder that works well with their surroundings.
Wolfwalkers’ many narrative threads may bump into each other occasionally, but it’s another enchanting work of independent cinema from a studio that is quickly building a reputation as a force to be reconned with.
Wolfwalkers is available on Apple TV+ from 11th December