How 'Wolfwalkers,' One of the Most Stunning Animated Movies of 2020, Got Made

The movie, streaming on Apple TV+, is a marvel of hand-drawn animation inspired by real Irish history.

Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Apple TV+

Wolfwalkers may very well be the best-animated movie of the approaching Oscars season. That’s a bold statement, to be sure, but considering the amount of creative energy, authenticity, and attention to every hand-drawn detail that went into Cartoon Saloon’s latest release-the same company behind The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner-we’re going to stand by it.  

The story takes us to the year 1650 and the town of Kilkenny, Ireland. The city, which is led by Oliver Cromwell, aka the Lord Protector, faces an enduring problem: wolves. Cromwell’s goal of clearing the woods for farming purposes leads to calling in some outside support. Enter highly skilled wolf hunter Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean). The man, and his young daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), are brought over from England to help with ridding the land of the animals. The trouble really kicks off when Bill heads out of the city to do his brutal work, leaving Robyn to fend for herself. And knowing no one in this new home leaves the girl to do some exploring outside the city walls. This is where she meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker). The feisty young Wolfwalker ends up challenging her view of the world, her father, and even herself. 

According to co-directors Ross Stewart and Tom Moore, Wolfwalkers, which debuted on Apple TV+ at the end of 2020, is based on real events that transpired right in their hometown. It’s a history lesson chock full of timely themes-cultural polarization, the threat of tyranny, and mass animal extinction, to name a few. And it’s all told through a gorgeous melange of two-dimensional, hand-drawn art. It’s all a bit breathtaking, to say the least.

Thrillist sat down with Stewart and Moore to learn a thing or two about their Oscar contender. Along the way, the two discuss the movie’s wood-cut animation style, and its enduring emotional appeal, the absolutely real historical events that inspired the story they’re telling, and the lessons they hope the audience will take away upon watching Wolfwalkers

Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Apple TV+

Thrillist: The story of Wolfwalkers is inspired by history and Irish lore. Can you tell me about the inspiration for the movie?
Ross Stewart:
Oliver Cromwell came over and actually invaded our town [of Kilkenny] that we live in now. It was in 1650 and he camped outside of the town because there was a plague happening inside it. When he came over with this invasion, he had a couple of things in mind, and one of them was to make wolves extinct. 

He put out a bounty for every wolf head that was delivered to all of his Marshalls and Sergeants: Whoever brought in a male wolf head was paid five pounds, whoever brought in a female wolf head was paid six pounds, and a cub was a pound. And then, a Catholic priest’s head was five pounds. So it was a pretty dark time in Irish history. 

Tom Moore: He was known as Lord Protector. He was the guy who killed King Charles I and invented parliamentary democracy, as it were. So in England, he’s a bit of a hero. There’s a statue of him outside the houses of Parliament. But here in Ireland, he’s [sort of] our Adolf Hitler.  

That’s an unfortunate legacy.
He is the biggest Irish villain in Irish history. Oh, another thing he did after he got back to Ireland is he canceled Christmas. 

So he was also the real-life embodiment of Ebenezer Scrooge?
He thought Christmas was too much fun and that people should be praying instead of having fun. 

The woodcut aesthetic of the drawings in your movie taps right into a sense of nostalgia I wasn’t expecting. What is it that makes Wolfwalkers fit so well with that 2D hand-drawn, old-school animation style?
Moore: There’s something kind of timeless about hand-drawn animation in that it has a value. You remember drawings. And in every generation, illustrated books and comics are a part of growing up. I think hand-drawn animation speaks to the language of comics and illustrated books rather than live-action or CG animation. I think there’s an expressiveness to hand-drawn animation. 

Stewart: There’s this hand-made organic-ness to it. There are little mistakes in there, naturally, when someone is drawing a background or drawing a character; there’ll be little mistakes. And it’s similar to when you get a handmade mug and there’s a thumbprint in it, or something, that’s a little bit wrong, that you go, “This was actually made by a person!” As opposed to it being absolutely perfect or robotic. I think that’s an aesthetic that people really appreciate.

Moore: We’ve really tried to push it with Wolfwalkers. We tried to get into the way we drew everything to have an expressive aspect and put the emotional effect in the viewer. Maybe even, subconsciously, they might notice that the artist, when he’s drawing a character when they’re angry, he uses angry lines and [they] really think about what the character’s feeling. It comes out through their hand and it comes out through their brush strokes and the pencil strokes. Even if they flick by it at 100 frames per second, I think the audience picks up on it. 

Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Apple TV+

The movie takes place centuries ago and yet the topics that you explore feel absolutely relevant to many things going on in the world right now: humanity vs. nature, political and cultural division, tyranny vs. empathy. Which of the movie’s themes is the most important for each of you? And what are you hoping the audience takes away from their viewing experience watching the movie?
I think the one thing from the start that has been really powerful for me has been the mass extinction of species. Not just fauna, but flora and fauna all across the world, and it’s all more or less human-driven. It’s something I’ve been really passionate about. I really hope the next generation picks up on that once a species is gone, it’s gone for good. And, not alone, do we lose everything connected with that on an animal level and environment level, but also on a human level, too. Imagine if your daughter picks up a book in years’ time and there’s a rhino and she goes, “What’s that?” because there are none of them left. Once something is extinct, it’s forever. And we shouldn’t let that happen if at all possible.

Do you think if more people viewed this issue as a human problem that more action would be taken to battle this crisis?
Yeah. I think so. But also I remember, when I was a kid, I was in Northern Ireland, and I had a direct experience with that polarization-the idea that Catholics don’t talk to Protestants and Protestants don’t talk to Catholics. I will always remember playing with a kid in the playground and their older brother coming up asking if I was a Catholic or a Protestant before we could continue playing together. 

I think that’s what’s going on in different forms all around the world. Where we have Robyn and Mebh on two different sides of the fence, maybe that’s the historical precedent that left us in the situation we’re in here with Northern Ireland. I think all around the world, there’s this polarization and I just hope the kids can see past the stupid shit the adults use to divide themselves up and are able to see we have more in common than in difference.  Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Aaron Pruner (@aaronflux) is a contributor to Thrillist.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.