Enchanting animated fable Wolfwalkers extends the winning streak of Kilkenny's Cartoon Saloon

A hunter embarks on a quest to exterminate a pack of ferocious beasts in the animated adventure Wolfwalkers from the Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon

Moll MacTire (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and her daughter Mebh MacTire (Eva Whittaker) in Wolfwalkers
Damon Smith

WOLFWALKERS (PG, 103 mins) Animation/Fantasy/Adventure. Featuring the voices of Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy. Directors: Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart.

Released: October 30 (selected cinemas) and streaming exclusively on Apple TV+ from December 13

Humanity's combative relationship with Mother Nature sparks civil unrest in this enchanting -animated fable from co-directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart.

Distinguished by expressive hand-drawn visuals and emotionally rich storytelling, Wolfwalkers extends the winning streak of Newry-born Moore's Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon, which deservedly snagged Oscar nominations for The Secret Of Kells, Song Of The Sea and The Breadwinner.

A bold, angular aesthetic, which has become the studio's trademark, is a handsome fit for a coming of age story set in mid-17th century Ireland – a time of magic and myth, religious fervour and forceful incursions by Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army.

Screenwriter Will Collins sows seeds of female empowerment and wilful defiance in his beguiling fairy tale, propagating a touching friendship between two girls on opposite sides of a bitter conflict.

Energetic vocal performances from Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker firmly anchor our affections to these spunky heroines as they wager their lives to protect the wilderness from destruction.

Collins demonstrates a light touch with the environmentally conscious subtext and deftly navigates shifting political tides of the era without the need for a stodgy history lesson.

One character's eye-catching design draws comparisons to Princess Merida from Pixar's 2012 animation Brave.

While both films share themes of adventure and self-discovery, Wolfwalkers howls to its own rapturous beat.

In 1650, English forces led by a glowering Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) occupy the city of Kilkenny.

Superstitious locals live in fear of wolves that roam the nearby woods.

"What cannot be tamed must be destroyed," growls the Lord Protector.

He enlists swarthy hunter Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) to exterminate the beasts.

Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey) and her father Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) in Wolfwalkers

Bill's young daughter Robyn (Kneafsey) yearns to hunt like her father but she is consigned to the scullery of the Lord Protector's house.

The headstrong girl sneaks out of the city and encounters a flame-haired free spirit called Mebh MacTire (Whittaker), who belongs to a fabled tribe of wolfwalkers.

When Mebh sleeps, her human body remains in peaceful slumber while her soul escapes in lupine form to wander the mortal realm.

Alas, Mebh's mother Moll (Maria Doyle Kennedy) is trapped in stasis because her wolf spirit has not returned.

Robyn pledges to locate Moll and thwart the Lord Protector's plan to reduce the woods to smouldering embers.

Wolfwalkers confidently casts a spell by nurturing the emotionally conflicted characters and allowing changes in their behaviour to happen organically, often with an outpouring of tears on screen.

McBurney invokes fire and brimstone as the film's tyrannical antagonist, tinging his scenes with palpable menace.

Composer Bruno Coulais' lyrical score harnesses the combined power of Irish folk band Kila and Norwegian singer Aurora, whose vocal trills set the tempo of Into The Unknown in Frozen II.

Their sweet harmony epitomises the seamless blending of elements under pack leaders Moore and Stewart.

Rating: 8/10

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