Magical dances with wolves come alive in 'Wolfwalkers'

The directors of the Oscar-nominated 'Wolfwalkers' talk about the process of bringing the Irish folk tale-inspired movie to life.

It was not third time lucky at the Oscars for Irish director Tomm Moore. Wolfwalkers, the third movie in his unofficial “Irish folklore trilogy”, was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award, However, the award eventually went to Pixar's Soul.

In a recent interview before the Oscars ceremony, however, Moore said he was just happy to be in contention for the award again, following nods for both 2009’s The Secret Of Kells and 2014’s Song Of The Sea.

It’s been almost 10 years since Moore and the production company he co-founded, Cartoon Saloon, released The Secret Of Kells, which had a visual style that was inspired by Celtic and medieval art.

While that movie really set the benchmark for Cartoon Saloon’s style of animation, Moore reckons that the standard of animation has grown with each subsequent film they made.

“It’s definitely gotten easier. We’ve had a few more artists – people that worked with us since The Secret Of Kells, and some younger ones who were INSPIRED by The Secret Of Kells when they studied animation, which kind of made us feel old!” says Moore during a video interview together with Wolfwalkers co-director Ross Stewart, from their base in Ireland.

Wolfwalkers revolves around a young girl named Robyn Goodfellowe (voiced by 16-year-old English actress Honor Kneafsey), whose father Bill (Sean Bean) is a hunter tasked with hunting down and wiping out a pack of wolves in the woods near the Irish town of Kilkenny, which is under the rule of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney).

While exploring the woods, Robyn meets a wild, free-spirited girl named Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who is a “wolfwalker”, a human being who can turn into a wolf a night, and agrees to help her to search for her missing mother.

With Wolfwalkers concluding his unofficial' Irish folklore trilogy', Moore doesn’t have any further plans to make another movie based on Irish folklore though.

“The next films we have in production right now are very different, but have some similar roots. But in terms of the ‘Irish folklore trilogy’, these three fit together, so we’ll leave it at that for now, ” Moore says.

Wolfwalkers is not really an adaptation of an Irish folk tale though, ” Stewart adds.

“It’s an original story with elements of a folk tale in it, and there wouldn’t be any folk tales written about the Cromwellian invasion, that would be too recent.

“Most of our folk tales go way, way back like to, one or two thousand years ago, so we really just went on a shopping trip through folk tales and history and added in some original elements into it. It’s the same for The Secret Of Kells and Song Of The Sea.”

Moore interjects: “It’s more like our own take on it.”

According to them, Wolfwalkers also had a lot more action movie influences compared to The Secret Of Kells and Song Of The Sea.

“A lot of the scenes and setting, and the final battle were stuff that we’ve never really tried before. It was a different different cinematography aesthetic. One of our storyboard artists was a big Indiana Jones and action movie fan, and he brought a lot of those kinds of influences to the movie, ” says Moore.

Garth Jenning’s acclaimed 2007 movie Son Of Rambow was also a major influence.

“It was a huge inspiration for the the odd couple friendship between the two kids, where one is a little bit more wild and dangerous, one is a little bit more conservative, and how they become like best friends, despite all those differences, ” Stewart notes.

“The heart of the movie is Mebh and Robyn’s friendship and that’s the thing that we had to keep on pulling back to focus.

“Because we were tempted to go off and explore the Lord Protector or Bill... there’s so much richness to that history and folklore that we could have gone off in all kinds of other directions. But really, we had to keep coming back to Mebh and Robin’s story.”

One thing the directors are grateful for is the chance for more people to watch the movie on Apple+ TV.

The movie had been released in Britain on Oct 26,2020, but pandemic lockdowns and the closure of cinemas meant its run was cut short.

“I can’t believe the amount of work they (Apple) are putting into marketing it, making sure that it’s seen by enough people, ” says Moore.

“I’m doing a rerelease right now in the States, but really the benefit of being on Apple TV+ means that an audience can discover the movie even without it being in the cinema.”

Wolfwalkers is currently available on Apple TV+.

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