Written by: Will Collins
Starring: Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan
If you’re told to believe something for so long, eventually what could be a lie becomes as real as the air you breathe. It explains how world leaders can manipulate people to step away from reality through sheer effort and repetition. The key comes from having an object to point to or a group to direct the hatred, and in the case of this beautifully animated film, it happens to be wolves. With its magical story and its touching thematic threads, Wolfwalkers uses its uniqueness to stand out.
In 1650s Ireland, the citizens of the town called Kilkenny are told to fear the threat of wolves by The Lord Protector (Simon McBurney). This does not quell the adventurous spirit of young Robin Goodfellow (Honor Kneafsey) who explores the forest and learns that the wolves and the human hybrid, Wolkfwalkers, may not be as evil as she’s been led to believe.
The classic case of misinformation and manipulation rear their ugly head in Wolfwalkers in the small town of Kilkenny. An interesting dynamic of these Irish folks taken over by English imperials and led to believe the wolves are a danger and the only protection comes from the very people limiting their freedom. It breeds a place where mistrust rules, which does not deter Robyn in her journey to follow in the footsteps of her father and become a wolf hunter. Her interaction with a Wolfwalker of a similar age, Mebh (Eva Whittaker) provides a new perspective for her while also unleashing an ability she never thought she possessed. It sets up for a sympathetic young girl having to change over the beliefs of a manipulated populace and a father who makes his income killing the creatures she has found a love for.
A story used before, but Wolfwalkers combines it with other rich themes running through it along with absolutely stunning animation. Watching this film makes me long for hand-drawn animation, which appears to be an antique in the modern landscape of CGI dominating the way audiences consume animated films. The luscious detail on display with this film allows for some fantastical elements to shine while still making the more serious aspects of the story feel grounded as well. As much as animated films appeal to kids more than any other demographic, Wolfwalkers appeals to adults with its story showing the stakes involved with the story. Characters are put in peril and on many occasions, there appears to be the chance the beloved characters introduced may indeed perish.
The emotional core of the story lies in the relationship between Robyn and Mebh, as they come from two very different backgrounds and must come together. Robyn has the pressure of following the feminine standards of her village as her father Bill (Sean Bean) desperately wants to keep her safe amid her tendencies to forge her own path. Mebh lives a wild lifestyle as a Wolfwalker but deals with the issue of her missing mother. They assist each other with the common enemy being The Lord Protector, which has a funny way of actually guarding people. With their own struggles, they help each other out in ways no others possibly can and forge such a touching friendship founded on the idea of assurance more than anything else.
Other ideas wrestled in this film include the dynamic between the English and the Irish in this period of time and how Robyn and her father coming from England poses her as a threat both to the Irish and the native folk of the area, represented by the Wolfwalkers. Robyn reckons with her identity in that regard on multiple occasions, as it raises complications when she discovers her newly found abilities. Along with this dynamic other ideas about religious zealotry and the manifestation of hate all come together in a nice bow to demonstrate everything happening in this community. With a group of people treated like they can barely protect themselves, it creates potential hostility, which all gets sent to the wolves just trying to protect their own terrain in the forest.
Emotionally resolute and majestically crafted, Wolfwalkers follows familiar story beats and rarely surprises in its narrative beats but it creates a wonderfully animated world and characters to follow. It presents conundrums for them to battle and definitely pushes them to the brink with a surprising level of violence displayed to continually show the seriousness of the story. The film makes for something to show children of a particular age but more so seems to be more interested in gearing its story towards adults and how they see this manifestation of fear play out in our modern age.