By James Hibberd
December 12, 2020 at 02:46 PM EST
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Sean Bean stars in a medieval-set fantasy playing a strong father who tries to protect his rebellious teen daughter while struggling to fulfill his duty to a corrupt leader – oh, and there are wolves involved.

While the setup might remind Game of Thrones fans of Ned Stark, everything else about the actor's new Apple TV+ animated film Wolfwalkers takes a very different path: The tale is set in 1650 Ireland and Bean voices Bill Goodfellowe, an English hunter ordered by the land's imperious Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) to exterminate wolves so woodcutters can clear a forest. Bill's crossbow-wielding daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), feeling confined by a protected life in their village, ventures into the forbidden forest where she meets a mysterious girl (Eva Whittaker) with the power to communicate with wolves, setting events into motion that lead to an epic clash.

Some critics have declared the hand-drawn film, from directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, the best animated movie of the year while EW's Christian Holub noted the production "has extra resonance in the time of plague."

In the exclusive interview below, Bean discusses his voiceover role, the GoT comparison, and the film's message.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What initially excited you about this project? 

SEAN BEAN: Well, I like animation. I used to love it as a kid. The original feature film Snow White – I saw that in the cinema, things like that. I was quite good at drawing myself as a kid, so I always had an interest in it. I quite like doing the voices for the faces – you've got a bit more freedom to create the character as you're going along.

I think some Thrones fans will get a kick out of Wolfwalkers because it's tough – at least at first – to not think about Ned and Arya with the relationship between Bill and Robyn. 

I suppose there's a tendency when something is set during this period of time to think about slipping back into Ned Stark or Boromir. But the guy I play is quite a humble man, he's quite sensitive, and he's just an ordinary man following orders and doing what he's told to do. It's not until he sees another world through Robyn's eyes that he realizes the world isn't what he's told it was.

Speaking of Snow White, the hand-drawn style of the film is gorgeous, and a bit refreshing from the sleek CG animated style that we've grown accustomed to.

Yeah, isn't it? There's so much more realism with CGI, it's very clean now and we take that for granted. When something comes from someone with a pen or pencil, drawing pictures, one after the other, to create a whole film, it's brilliant. It's so unusual to see that these days.

There's also a level of – I don't want to say "darkness," because Wolfwalkers really is a family film – but there are some edgy moments in there that you would expect would get crossed out of the script if it was made at a major Hollywood studio nowadays for a summer release.

You feel like it genuinely means something, that there's a good story to be told that it still maintains its Irish roots and mythology and it was done by people who really felt they needed to tell a story that they felt very strongly and passionately about, rather than thinking about it as a commercial venture and having their hands tied by a studio. When I went to Ireland to [record] it, it was in a big old country house with animals running around. It felt like being at a friend's house and they would say, "let's just try this or try that." It was very informal. It brought a more earthy realism to it.

There's a certain amount of environmental theme there in terms of humans pushing into the wilderness. But what do you think is important for viewers to take away from the film? 

I think it's important to remember that there are these stories that are made in mythology and are part of a [culture's] heritage. Wolves have kind of a bad reputation but are very free creatures who can teach Robyn a lot. It tells me that we shouldn't lose that wildness, that spontaneity, in our great search for new ideas amid lives that we lead that are often quite structured toward not finding those magical moments. Like I have a garden that attracts a lot of wildlife and I love being out there with the smells of the leaves and the plants and trees and the water. How I feel when I go out into my garden is probably how Robyn feels when she goes into the forest and finds the wolves. But it's the kind of thing I feel we need to hold onto and explore more of instead of being stuck in offices and in rooms with computers and listening to mainstream media. I think it's important that we go out and find out things for ourselves, and that should be encouraged in all walks of life.

Wolfwalkers premiered Friday on AppleTV+. 

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