Cartoon Saloon is an Irish animation studio, and they're absolutely world class. They first gained world attention right out of the gate, when The Secret of Kells became a nominee for Best Animated Feature in the 2009 Academy Awards. It wasn't the first time a foreign movie made it on the list, but it was a surprise for many casual Oscar watchers.
Of course, if you actually watched the movie, it was a no-brainer; it not only deserved to be nominated, it's part of the reason 2009's list of Best Animated Feature nominees is still one of the all time best for the category. Since then, every feature by Cartoon Saloon has been nominated in the category; Tomm Moore, director of The Secret of Kells and now Wolfwalkers, was further personally nominated for Song of the Sea.
Both earlier films feature furry elements, especially Song, which deals with selkies (Cartoon Saloon is also responsible for the very furry, very good Skunk Fu! series). However, with Wolfwalkers, Moore and co-director Ross Stewart have created the studio's most furry-friendly film yet. The titular Wolfwalkers could be considered a variety of werewolf; but this time, they're the good guys.
Wolfwalkers tells the story of Robyn Goodfellowe (voiced by Honor Kneafsey) the daughter of a wolf hunter and trapper (voiced by Sean Bean) who has traveled to Ireland to help rid it of wolves. Robyn at first wants to follow in her father's footsteps, and when she literally does so and ends up outside of the walled village and in the woods, a series of misadventures leads her to a meeting with Mebh (voiced by Eva Whittaker), first briefly in human form, then later, and much more importantly, in the form of a wolf.
During the second encounter with Mebh, Robyn is accidentally bitten by Mebh, and, well, you know the rules. Robyn, not having access to a television playing The Wolf Man, is unaware of the consequences of this bite; Mebh thinks she can use her healing powers to negate it, so she doesn't even bother mentioning the consequences to Robyn. But, Mebh is mistaken.
Of course, saying this is a straight werewolf movie seems almost crass, as the transmission-through-bite and general human-to-wolf-transformation things are really the only classic elements present. Wolfwalkers less transform into wolves as gain a new, separate wolf body when they fall asleep. They also have the aforementioned healing powers, and can communicate with wild wolves. They don't have particular weaknesses to fire or silver, but are vulnerable to regular harm; furthermore, even though their wolf form and human forms are separate, any damage sustained as a wolf is transferred to the human form.
The villain of the piece is the Commonwealth's Lord Protector (voiced by Simon McBurney), who while subjugating the Irish, also plans to subjugate nature. Mebh and her wolfpack are to be exterminated, but she won't leave as her mother has gone missing.
Well, enough about the plot, which is entertaining, the real spectacle here is the art of animation on the screen. This is a gorgeous movie. While I'm not here to badmouth the CGI competition, because there are some amazingly beautiful CGI movies, I never want CGI to replace hand-drawn animation completely. There's a lot of effort put up on the screen, and you can see it because the movie allows you to see it. The animation is mostly smooth, but it also has a purposeful roughness to it that makes it feel real, despite the oftentimes heavily stylized visuals and framing.
Robyn's first time running with wolf pack is an amazing scene, and the visual style does convey a sense of other-ness when we get point of view shots from Robyn. It feels like the closest approximation of that ultimate furry fantasy of becoming an animal that I've seen in a movie. It's this embracing of "other-ness" really, I think will most appeal to furry fans. This movie understands what it's like to be an outsider.
Cartoon Saloon is, after all, an outsider studio compared to most Western animation. It has its own point of view. One that's worth checking out.