“Wolfwalkers,” the new animated film from Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, is another Celtic adventure that is steeped in Irish history. Set in 1650 Ireland, the Apple TV+ film follows Robyn (voice of Honor Kneafsey), a young English girl who wants to tag along with her father Bill (voice of Sean Bean) as he hunts wolves under the orders of an Oliver Cromwell-esque Lord Protector (voice of Simon McBurney). After sneaking out one day into the woods, Robyn befriends Mebh (voice of Eva Whittaker), a fearless wolfwalker who, along with her mother, are the last of their kind, and learns about the magic of the wolves — and becomes a wolfwalker too.
When Moore started working on “Wolfwalkers” years ago, he did not foresee its themes of polarization and otherization becoming “depressingly timely,” he tells Gold Derby during our Meet the Experts: Film Animation panel (watch above).
“You know how ‘Star Trek’ is about now even though it’s set in the future? I think it’s more about now,” he continues. “There’s this polarization going on where people are feeling there’s the other that they’re afraid of or they’re enemies. We lost our woodlands back then, we lost wolves, and I think telling the story of a little English girl and a little Irish girl who manage to cross over that divide that society has put on them and be friends anyway in order to save a habitat and save the world, I think it’s for today’s audience.”
SEE ‘Wolfwalkers’ earns rave reviews on the way to Oscars
Like his previous Oscar-nominated films “The Secret of the Kells” (2009) and “Song of the Sea” (2014), “Wolfwalkers” is hand-drawn, with lush greens and golds popping off the screen during scenes in the forest. “I think there’s a timelessness and expressiveness to hand-drawn animation,” Moore says. “I think we can speak in the language of illustration and painting and stuff. I love all forms of animation. I love to draw and the studio’s filled with people who like to draw, and we just like to draw on influences from comic books to historical art and try to find a way to tell a story that can only be done with hand-drawn.”
That doesn’t mean they didn’t turn to the computer at all, which the director describes as a “helper.” The wolfvision sequences, during which we see the world through the wolves’ POV, were “built in CG first to get the camera moves right.”
“And that’s just a reference thing. That gets printed out, and then frame by frame, drawn on paper with pencils and charcoals by the team, so it’s kind of using the digital technology to figure everything out and then using hand-drawn to make the final look that’s onscreen,” Moore explains. “Everything we did, we tried to make it feel like it could’ve been done back in the ‘60s.”
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