January 21, 2021 – This animated Irish fantasy film is the best of Tomm Moore's so called “Irish Folklore Trilogy,” of animated features. The others are “The Secret of Kells” (2009) and “Song of the Sea” (2014). I hope more will follow.
Moore and Ross Stewart direct this international production that draws upon Irish pagan beliefs and werewolf stories. These werewolves, however, are more benevolent than those seen in most movies, imbued with healing powers and a mission to preserve and protect wolves and nature.
Set in Ireland in 1650, townspeople are under the authoritarian rule of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who is determined to wipe out a pack of wolves that are protecting a nearby forest from woodsmen, who are tasked with clearing the forest for farming.
Cromwell's chief hunter and trapper is Bill Goodfellowe, who can't figure out why his traps are not working. His young daughter, Robyn, wants to be a hunter as well, but her father orders her to stay inside the protective walls of the town.
Some of the local peasants believe there are wolfwalkers in the forest, who are protecting the wolves and the forest, and that cutting down the forest is a bad idea. Cromwell thinks such beliefs are foolish. The film thus pits Cromwell's Christian faith against pagan beliefs, and the Christians come out looking pretty narrow-minded.
There is a flashback scene to open the movie in which a townsman is saved from wolves by wolfwalkers, who heal his wounds. That is one reason at least some people in the town believe in wolfwalkers.
Against the wishes of her father, Robyn goes into the forest to look for her missing pet hawk, Merlyn, she encounters a wolfwalker, a young girl like herself, Mebh Óg MacTíre. She appears as a girl when awake, but magically transforms into a wolf when she sleeps. During their encounter, Robyn is bitten by Mebh (who is in wolf form at the time) and Robyn later becomes a wolfwalker herself.
Robyn and Mebh have many adventures together, most of which have to do with Mebh's wolfwalker mother, Moll MacTíre, who has mysteriously disappeared while searching for a new home for the wolf pack.
Mebh is unable to convince her father, or Cromwell, to call off the attacks against the wolves, which leads to a violent confrontation between Cromwell's soldiers and the wolves. The conflict also causes a split between Robyn and Mebh.
The story is compelling and the characters are interesting. The animation is colorful, along the lines of the other films in the trilogy. This film doesn't look anything like Pixar animation. It is a highly stylized throwback to the look of traditional hand-drawn animation. This film rates an A.
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