TL;DR – a magnificent Irish animated fantasy film about a wolf pack protecting their forest home from human progress, and the coming-of-age story of a young English girl finding her own identity and choosing her own path.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Wolfwalkers can be summarised in one word, stunning. Directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart have created an Irish folklore film that is for adults and children that captures story, visuals, cast and music in a masterful piece of on-screen magic.
Nominated for the 2021 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the story follows English girl, Robyn, and her pet falcon, Merlyn, as they move to Kilkenny with her father, Bill Goodfellowe. Set in the mid-1600s, the Lord Protector of the Irish town has hired Bill, an expert huntsman, to exterminate all the wolves in the nearby forest so that the lumberjacks can continue with their tree chopping undisturbed. The wolf pack has sought to protect their woodland home from destruction with the help of two wolfwalkers, Moll and Mebh (a mother and daughter duo who are human but can transform into wolves when they fall asleep).
Robyn aspires to be a great hunter like her father, but she encounters barriers in many forms including hostility from the Irish townsfolk (England and Ireland were at war during this period), her father’s own fear (he wants her to stay at home and be safe), and eventually the Lord Protector himself who orders she work in the scullery.
Sick of being trapped within the confines of her own home, Robyn sneaks out of town and follows her father into the woods. She hears the bell of a shepherd calling for help as his flock has been set upon by a wolf. With crossbow in hand, Robyn rushes to his aid and is about to fire at the wolf when a sheep bumps her and the arrow goes flying and instead strikes Merlyn. Distraught, Robyn goes back into the woods and finds her falcon miraculously healed. She then falls into one of her father’s own traps and is left dangling upside down from a rope snare. Mebh, in wolf form, discovers her and seeks to free her from the trap, but Robyn thinks Mebh is there to eat her and fights back. Though Mebh manages to free her, she accidentally bites Robyn on the arm in the process.
Robyn later discovers she has also become a wolfwalker and learns about the wolf pack’s plight. The background theme of industrial progress versus preservation of nature is universal, and Robyn’s view of her place and purpose opens as the story progresses. The magical transformation into a wolf is a perfect metaphor for Robyn’s mental transformation. Her mind opening up to the complexities of the world and thus coming-of-age as she seeks to help Mebh locate her mother who set out some time ago in wolf form to find a new forest home for the wolf pack to move to but has not returned. This is because Moll has been captured by the Lord Protector and is held in a cage within his castle.
The final act sees the Lord Protector and his soldiers seeking to burn down the forest and rid themselves of the wolves once and for all. Only through the actions of Robyn and the dawning realisation of her father who pieces together his daughter’s transformation are the wolfwalkers and the pack saved.
The 2-D animation is sumptuous and the animators at Cartoon Saloon studio have taken great care to fill every frame with loving detail. The visuals are an atmospheric delight as they capture the folklore feel of an Irish tale come to life. Combined with a soundtrack featuring Irish folk music and the song “Running with the Wolves” by Norwegian singer-songwriter, Aurora, the movie is captivating from start to finish.
Great story, great art, great voices, great script, great music… can’t really ask for more.
10 out of 10