This one’s for all the wolf girls out there.
A lot can be said about the overabundance of streaming channels nowadays, but I recently came in to a free year of Apple TV+ and of course I had to immediately watch Wolfwalkers. Cartoon Saloon is an Irish animation studio that’s constantly on my radar. They produced one of my all-time favorite movies, Song of the Sea, and consistently deliver with stories that are entertaining, emotional, and well-written, as well as visually stunning. Wolfwalkers, the newest addition to their lineup, is no exception. Set in Kilkenny, Ireland, in the 1650s, the plot follows young English girl Robyn Goodfellowe adapting to the strict rules of her new home while her father Bill is tasked with exterminating the wolf pack outside of town. The only problem is that Robyn isn’t content to be a scullery maid; she’s imaginative, adventurous, and wants nothing more than to help her father hunt the wolves. So she does what any rebellious young adventurer would do: sneaks out of town into the woods. There she learns that there’s more to this wolf pack than meets the eye.
One of this movie’s strong suits is the contrast between the settings. We have the strict, regimented Kilkenny, where Robyn is forced to be someone she doesn’t want to be. She and her father are looked down upon because they’re English, the Lord Protector is a colonizing asshat, and Robyn isn’t listened to because she’s a girl. Then there’s the forest, where everything is beautiful and magical. Robyn is free and happy, and accepted by her new friend Mebh. This is even reflected in the animation itself. Everyone and everything associated with the town is drawn with crisp, rigid lines, while the forest is blurred and soft, with the sketch lines still showing. As the story progresses, Robyn herself becomes softer as she embraces her new wilder, freer self.
Another win for this movie is Robyn and Mebh’s friendship. Despite the fact that they should be enemies, Mebh actually wins Robyn over pretty quickly and shows her that she can have a life free of society’s constraints. In Kilkenny, Robyn is a girl who has to do what she’s told, which definitely does not include going on adventures or telling fairy tales. She’s English, an outsider, and therefore unwelcome. But Mebh lives outside of all that. She doesn’t care that Robyn’s English–she doesn’t even know what or where England is. She likes Robyn for who she is, and as it’s revealed that Mebh has been living without her mother for so long and her loneliness becomes apparent, we see that Mebh is getting just as much out of the friendship as Robyn. The scene where Mebh tells her mother’s sleeping form all about Robyn and how she brushed and wove flowers into her hair was so touching. The rest of the world in Wolfwalkers is hard and strict, but at least these two lonely girls were able to find each other and leave it all behind.
And of course, Wolfwalkers is great for wolf and werewolf fans. Whereas wolves are usually depicted as wild, aggressive, and scary, Mebh’s pack is friendly and fun-loving. They only attack when threatened, just as any wild animal would do. And the concept of wolfwalkers turns the werewolf trope on its head. Usually werewolves change on a full moon, and it’s often painful and involuntary. Being a wolfwalker is quite the opposite. There isn’t any actual shapeshifting going on; instead, their spirits leave their bodies when they’re asleep, and manifest as wolves. Totally voluntary (for the most part) and no full moon needed. There are some pitfalls to the process, but I’ll stay away from spoiler territory.
Wolfwalkers is a fantastic film that I didn’t want to end. If you’re craving an adventure, which we probably all are right now, then definitely check this one out if you can!