IN 1999 three animation graduates, Tomm Moore, Paul Young, and Cork woman Nora Twomey founded Cartoon Saloon. They started small, but with big dreams. Since then their small studio has become one of the most respected animation studios in the business and have been nominated for a slew of awards including four Academy Awards.
Their latest film, Wolfwalker, has wowed critics and audiences worldwide, and makes its way to Irish cinema screens this Friday.
Wolfwalkers is set in Kilkenny in the 1600s and follows the story of Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), the daughter of a wolf hunter. She becomes torn by the conventions of the time, to fear wolves, when she meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker) a little girl who is, in fact, a Wolfwalker, a shape-shifting wolf.
Moore tells us why they chose to tell this story: “There were a couple of themes that Ross and I had in mind. One of them was about the way that species extinction has changed our culture. We’re losing species all over the world, and we’re losing more than just the animals, we lose cultures. Ireland used to be known as Wolf Land.
"We used to have all this tradition of folklore and mythology around wolves because they were still part of our day to day life. When they disappeared, all that folklore disappeared as well, and that was really sad and what we wanted to explore.”
Stewart agrees. “It also shows the polarisation of society. As we journey with Robyn through the film, we get to understand that the creatures that she was told to be afraid of can be friends and that there’s much more that unites us than divides us.”
Wolfwalkers is not Moore’s first feature, he directed both the Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, and while Stewart has worked on shorts, namely a sequence in the film The Prophet, this is his feature debut. He says it was daunting, but also exciting: “It was nerve-wracking to know that a whole feature rests on our shoulders.
"You hope that you lead the hundreds of people that are involved in making the film the right direction. I had a good teacher,” he says looking at Moore who adds that co-directing comes with a bonus.
“It was nice to have someone to share the burden with and really nice to share all of the good things with a good friend.”
The film has a strong voice cast with Sean Bean’s recognisable timbre voicing Robyn’s father Bill (Sean Bean), the wolf hunter. The cast also includes Tommy Tiernan and Maria Doyle Kennedy. Stewart says they went through lots of casting tapes and tells us when they put Eva and Honor together it was like magic. Cartoon Saloon founders Nora Twomey and Paul Young voice some of the characters too.
“We were able to have loads of local actors take part like yourself,” Stewart adds as the interview digresses into how your Echo film critic spent an afternoon in the studio recording lending her voice to that of a terrified local woman. (Cara writes weekly film reviews for The Echo's award-winning entertainment supplement, Downtown.)
Both Moore and Stewart are passionate environmentalists, and they hope Wolfwalkers leaves an impression on audiences. Stewart hopes that people learn to work together to save the planet: “Even if those people that you need to work with are across the political divide, we should tackle this together because we don’t have much time left.”
As for their next project, Twomey is heading up a new show for Netflix.
Moore gives us a brief insight: “It is one of the biggest projects we’ve ever taken on as a studio. I think it’s going to be really impressive and I’m excited to show the world.”
Wolfwalker opens in cinemas tomorrow, Friday, December 4.