The Apple TV+ Movie 'Wolfwalkers' Is an Gorgeous Retelling of an Irish Werewolf Fable

The director of 'The Secret of Kells' and 'Song of the Sea' is back with an exhilarating new animated film.

wolfwalkers
Cartoon Saloon

Ireland was once teeming with wolves. You might not think it, since all the wolves that once roamed within the shores of Ireland are now gone, but Irish folklore and historical accounts are dotted here and there with legends of men who "took wolf-shape," roaming the countryside and raiding nearby towns. In other words, werewolves. But Irish werewolves are a little different from those we're familiar with: Instead of transforming by the light of the monthly full moon, their souls depart their bodies in the shape of wolves, leaving their human forms asleep for as long as they're away "wolfing." It's this kind of werewolf that comes to stunning cinematic life in Wolfwalkers, which is now available to stream on Apple TV+

Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey) and her father Bill (Sean Bean, who gets to say "Lord Protector" a lot again) have journeyed to Ireland on appointment for Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney), who has tasked Bill, a celebrated hunter, with killing the last of the wolf pack menacing his city. Robyn wants nothing more than to journey with her father outside the city walls, hunting the wolves with her falcon and her crossbow, but one day she discovers more than she bargained for. The wolf pack is led by a pair of wolfwalkers, a wild little girl named Mebh (Eva Whittaker) and her mother Moll (Maria Doyle Kennedy), who is trapped asleep in their den after her wolf body was mysteriously lost. Mebh and Robyn swiftly become friends delighting in the natural beauty outside the city walls, until catastrophe hits, and Robyn faces the fear of becoming the one thing her father may be forced to destroy. 

With Wolfwalkers, directors Ross Stewart, Tomm Moore, and Moore's team at Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon have outdone themselves, giving their new movie a special beauty that will make you miss the days when 2D animation was the norm. If you recognize the look of this film, that's because Moore (who was one of the co-founders) has worked with Cartoon Saloon on two other breathtaking animated movies inspired by Irish legend—The Secret of Kells (2009), about the creation of the famous illuminated manuscript the Book of Kells, and selkie folktale reimagining Song of the Sea (2014), about a little boy who discovers his sister can transform into a seal. 

Wolfwalkers has the look of an animated manuscript as well, with a constant flowing movement to the action of the characters and lines of still-visible background sketches that blur into one another, as if every frame was meant to be its own distinct piece of art. The visuals in the wolf transformations are something particularly special. 

There is a strong sense of metaphor to Wolfwalkers as well, which you can pick up on even if you're not versed at all in the history of Ireland and its relationship to the rest of Great Britain. Cromwell and his campaign against the wolves is representative of the Norman conquest of Ireland, methodically wiping out the superstitious ways of the natives and replacing them with modernity, industry, and a new religion. Even the accounts of the bands of landless men who took wolf-shape are othering, ascribing a violent, animalistic nature to the native people in order to subdue them. Blonde, blue-eyed Robyn, with her lilting, highborn accent from across the sea, sticks out like a sore thumb in the midst of bushy-haired, dirt-streaked Mebh and her wolfy tribe, but both of them possess an untapped ferocity and sense of what is right that makes them much more powerful together. 

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.