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BFI London Film Festival 2020 Review - WOLFWALKERS

wolfwalkers review
A young apprentice hunter and her father journey to Ireland to help wipe out the last wolf pack. But everything changes when she meets a free-spirited girl from a tribe rumoured to transform into wolves by night.

Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart

Voices: Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon McBurney

wolfwalkers poster


It’s understandable that Pixar is affiliated with emotional narratives (just look up the “Pixar what if” meme) and why Hayao Miyazaki is considered the world’s greatest animator. But Cartoon Saloon, an animation studio based in Kilkenny, Ireland, has been quietly killing it for over a decade now, with four heartwarming features that all deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned names. None of the films - The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner - have had strong commercial success but all have been nominated for an Oscar. I suspect Wolfwalkers will continue the tradition, for it is akin to top-tier Studio Ghibli and the best Disney movies of the '90s.

wolfwalkers review

This film is absolutely beautiful, in terms of both narrative and aesthetic. Co-directed by Tomm Moore - the studio’s Pete Docter - and Ross Stewart, Wolfwalkers is a rousing historical tale revolving around an enigmatic tribe in Ireland who can transform into wolves at night. Set during Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland, the adventure centres on a young English girl, Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey) who’s learning to hunt wolves under the guidance of her father, Bill (Sean Bean). Together, they head to Ireland to seek out the last surviving pack of wolves.


Robyn’s curiosity to explore the forbidden territories beyond the city’s walls lands her at the doorstep of a wolf den, which she peeks into and watches as a young girl who looks a lot like Merida from Brave - this film answers the “what if” question of “What if Brave but better?” - who is able to command the wolves. This girl, Mebh (Eva Whittaker), can’t wake up her unconscious mother Moll (Maria Doyle Kennedy), who will remain dormant until her wolf counterpart comes back to the cave to inhabit her (think of the body-transfer process in Avatar).

wolfwalkers review

Caught spying on the wolves, Robyn is chased by Mebh but there’s little animosity upon confrontation. They quickly become friends and set out together to find Mebh’s mum, who’s been captured by Cromwell’s army. But when Robyn discovers she can transform into a wolf overnight, the odyssey becomes incredibly complicated and threatens to tear the family dynamic apart. It’s a wonderfully rich story with several layers: a gorgeous examination of parent-child relationships, a poignant commentary on our recklessness towards endangered species, and a pointed historical allegory of Britain’s subjugation of Ireland.


Superb voice acting across the board powers the multi-dimensional characters, in addition to detailed 2D animation. With an expressive mise-en-scène and a lovely colour palette, it may be the best cinematic artwork since Into the Spider-Verse. Norwegian folktronica musician Aurora made a prescient song back in 2015 called 'Running with the Wolves', which is beautifully applied here, so perfectly appropriate that one could assume the film was written around this track.

wolfwalkers review

Oftentimes, animation movies are targeted for kids but Cartoon Saloon likes to situate their films in a strong political context and don’t thrive on the same broad humour of the giant studios, giving them a greater appeal to adults. But, while adults should see Wolfwalkers without question, it is strongly recommended to younger audiences because it tells an accessible story about history with a great moral about the importance of connecting with those who don’t look or sound like you.

Wolfwalkers played as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020. It opens in UK/ROI cinemas on October 30th, with previews from October 26th.

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