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Wolfwalkers Movie Review: Irish Folklore And Classic Animation Create Real Magic

Some movies you need to watch twice. Wolfwalkers is one of them. The first time, watch to enjoy the beauty. The second time, watch to enjoy the story. Watching it a third time might not be necessary, but with it easily available to stream there are worse choices you could make with how you finish out your quarantine.

The film begins with Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), a young apprentice hunter who recently moved to Ireland with her father Bill (Sean Bean). He hunts the wolves living outside of the city under the direction of “The Lord Protector” (Simon McBurney). Although she has been instructed to stay safely inside the city walls, Robyn escapes to explore the forbidden area outside. She befriends Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a member of the mysterious wolfwalker tribe. Wolfwalkers transform into wolves while sleeping, leaving their bodies behind as their wolf avatars roam freely. Mebh’s mother Moll (Maria Doyle Kennedy), the leader of the wolfwalkers, has gone missing. Robyn and Mebh are determined to find Moll and ultimately protect all of the wolves in the forest.

There’s a layer of real history woven throughout Wolfwalkers. Although never mentioned by name, “The Lord Protector” is at least a parallel for Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell ruled Ireland brutally, and “The Lord Protector” echoes that brutality in this treatment of the wolves. He would happily burn down the forest if his hunters were not successful. Indeed, the hunting of the wolves provides the scarier moments in the film that might make it too intense for the very young. Outside of the preschool members of your family, however, consider this movie an appropriate choice for all ages.

Cartoon Saloon has been called the Irish Studio Ghibli, and while their catalog of films is not as large, the quality of what they produce lends truth to that statement. Tomm Moore, one of Cartoon Saloon’s founders, has directed three of the studio’s four feature films, this time co-directing with Ross Stewart. Their love of both Irish folklore and traditional hand-drawn animation shines through in Wolfwalkers. Celtic imagery is featured throughout the film alongside a rich palette of oranges and greens.

The characters of Robyn and Mebh contrast in both personality and their appearance. Puritanical Robyn combines angles and lines, while the slightly feral Mebh exists in only rounded shapes. Their curiosity for each other and their differences cements a friendship that serves them well on their adventures. They discover that those differences only mask the many ways they are similar. They both long to be free to explore and play, and worry about the dangers created by the changes in their lives. Mebh’s wolf family is threatened by the destruction of the forest by the hunters while Robyn struggles against her confinement within the city walls.

The film does not shy away from deep themes. The Lord Protector leads with brutal authority, locking up anyone showing the smallest sign of dissent. Wolfwalkers also explores the place of women and girls in their society and the protection of natural resources. This is the kind of movie that will more than likely lead to some interesting discussions when watched as a family.

With so many animated feature films focusing on the “wow” factor in just how realistic they can get, Wolfwalkers‘ rougher edges come across as a breath of fresh air. The result is something quite magical. Just be prepared to watch it at least twice.

You can stream Wolfwalkers on Apple TV+ beginning on December 11, 2020.

About Wolfwalkers

Rating: PG (Scary Images|Peril|Brief Language|Sequences of Violence|Some Thematic Elements)
Runtime: 1h 43m

In a time of superstition and magic, a young apprentice hunter, Robyn Goodfellowe, journeys to Ireland with her father to wipe out the last wolf pack. While exploring the forbidden lands outside the city walls, Robyn befriends a free-spirited girl, Mebh, a member of a mysterious tribe rumored to have the ability to transform into wolves by night. As they search for Mebh’s missing mother, Robyn uncovers a secret that draws her further into the enchanted world of the WOLFWALKERS and risks turning into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy.

As The Bunny Hops®