Wolfwalkers Movie Review: A Triumph For Wolf Girls
Recently I watched the movie Wild Mountain Thyme. It’s not my usual cup of tea–if I’m going to watch a romance, then usually I prefer a dumb teen romcom. I knew it had generated some controversy since the trailer debuted, because folks thought the accents were bad. I didn’t pay much attention to that. Unless we’re talking about Southern speak, I don’t really comment on TV and movie accents. I saw the movie only because it was promised to have a bonkers twist. And it was even disappointing on that front. The promised twist wasn’t so much a twist as it is a reveal. Further, the movie handles it like it can’t quite believe it, either, so it just moves on. And so did I, with another movie set in the Emerald Isle. Let’s talk about the movie Wolfwalkers then, in this review.
Wolf Eyes Are Smiling: A Plot Summary
image via Cartoon Saloon and Apple TV+
Picture it: Kilkenny, Ireland. 1650. The Lord Protector (Simon McBurney), who’s not not Oliver Cromwell, is in wild-ass Ireland to tame it for ol’ mother England. He wants to accomplish that by razing the woods surrounding the village, so they can use that land for farming. The big issue, though, is that this land is home to a pack of wolves. So the Lord Protectors’s got ace hunter Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) in country to exterminate the pack. (Boo these men.)
Bill’s a single dad to daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey)–yes, Robyn Goodfellowe. She idolizes her pop and wants to be a hunter like him. As her only other option seems to be lifelong drudgery in the scullery, you can see why she’d long for something more exciting. And that’s exactly what she gets, when she sneaks out of the gated village one day.
Not only does she have her first encounter with a pack of wolves, but she also learns that the mythical “wolfwalkers” aren’t that mythical. To that end, she meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who’s practically feral and absolutely charming. And nothing is the same for any of the characters after that.
Wolfwalkers Movie Review
First of all, it would seemingly come as no surprise that the subject matter is very much relevant to my interests, as old people used to say. On the other hand, that doesn’t always mean I’ll love a movie (see my Bloodthirsty movie review). Despite its lycanthropic focus, that movie failed for me on multiple levels. I’m pleased to say that Wolfwalkers does not.
It starts with the animation. It’s not the slick digital perfection to which we’ve become accustomed these days. Instead, it’s artwork that looks hand-drawn, that crackles with warmth and life. It feels as if there were a person behind it, that care went into it, because there was and because it did.
AWOO (image via Cartoon Saloon and Apple TV+)
But all the beautiful drawings in the world couldn’t save the movie if the story were lacking. Thankfully, again, it’s not. The drawings are in service of a story that blends a pretty basic historical tale with some rather profound themes.
So while kids can delight in Robyn and Mebh’s (wolf) girl power adventures, there is deeper meaning here for adults. That’s because it’s a story that introduces, for instance, themes of religious oppression. The Lord Protector holds this community in his grip in a way that’s reminiscent of The Hunchback of Notre Dame‘s Claude Frollo. There are also themes of ecological disaster, as well as colonial violence. But while these are big topics, they’re handled in a sensitive and (mostly) subtle manner.
That’s not to say, though, that the movie is an over-serious bore. On the contrary, it’s often fun as hell. One standout sequence, for example, is the scene set to Aurora’s “Running with the Wolves.” Not since Zootopia‘s “Try Everything” has a children’s movie song been more firmly lodged in my brain spaces. It’s a shame that the Norwegian pop singer’s tune actually predates the film, because it deserves awards.
And so does the film as a whole. This has been a weird year for movies, obviously. At times, I know there’s been discussion about how we might cobble together award shows next year. We’ve talked, for instance, about what movies might make it to nominations that wouldn’t have in more normal years. Wolfwalkers, however, would need no pity nods. It’s a gem, and it stands on its own (furry paws).
Wolfwalkers is now available on Apple TV+.
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featured image via Cartoon Saloon and Apple TV+
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.