There’s a lot about Wolfwalkers that feels like a throwback. The story is set in 1650, it utilizes a simple style of 2D animation that recalls woodblock art, and frequently makes use of the phrase “smell you later.” Despite all these dated qualities, the film tells a story that feels fresh and original. Through the exploration of the mythic “wolfwalkers” – human/wolf/witch hybrids who inhabit human bodies during the day and wolf bodies during the night – the film explores many themes that are as universal as they are timeless, like family, friendship, acceptance of our differences, and sustainable agriculture.
Set in Medieval Ireland, Wolfwalkers tells the tale of Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), a young, adventurous English girl whose only friend in the world is a falcon named Merlin. The reason for her limited social circle is that Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney) has ordered her father, Bill (Sean Bean) to move from England to the small Irish town of Kilkenny, where he is tasked with killing all the wolves that live in the nearby forest and have a rather pesky habit of trying to eat all the woodcutters who are trying to clear the land. Not content to be a simple scullery maid, Robyn begs her father to let her go wolf hunting with him, but he wisely considers this to be one of the more ill-advised Take Your Daughter to Work Day plans and insists she stay in the town. So Robyn does what any respectful young girl would do: she grabs her trusty crossbow and sneaks off into the woods to follow her unwitting father into the heart of Wolf Country.
When that plan predictably badly, Robyn ultimately finds herself in a wolf den where, surprise, she meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a spritely, fast-talking redhead, and as fate would have it, a wolfwalker. While the pair get off to a bit of a rocky start – particularly the part where Mebh bites Robyn while in wolf form and does a pretty mediocre job of apologizing for it – they soon begin bonding over their love of thievery and life outside the castle walls. Things get rocky again when it turns out that Mebh is remarkably bad at using her wolf magic to heal her own wolf bites, and Robyn also becomes a wolfwalker, much to the chagrin of her father. Cue an incredible 80s-style Learning to Be a Wolf Training Montage and considerable family drama, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a picture!
While the artwork may seem simple compared to modern CGI-enhanced entries, the aesthetic remains visually striking. The characters are expressive, the action is intense, and the world is rich with detail. More importantly, the story told through the animation is equally rich with feeling and nuance. At a time when we all struggle to maintain a basic level of civility when talking to people who we disagree with, the fast and easy friendship shared between the two girls who are not only raised to be enemies, but start the movie actively seeking to kill each other should be inspiring not just for kids, but for adult viewers as well. At the same time, the girls each have their own family issues to contend with – Robyn seeks to hold onto her father’s approval while realizing the shortcomings of his limited worldview while Mebh searches for the wolf spirit of her catatonic mother – both deal with their individual struggles with a swirling tied of heartfelt, complex emotions that are brought fully to life by the voices of the talented cast, and the talented animators who ensure that no matter what the characters are feeling, their eyes always dance with life.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Stars
In a pretty bleak year, Wolfwalkers stands out as a rare glimmer of fun and positivity. The spectacular old school animation fits perfectly with a classic story about folklore, magic, and kids who can see the world more clearly than any of the adults who have grown up and become stuck in the mire of their own preconceived notions. If you’re a fan of animation and have Apple TV+, the movie is a must see. Is it worth the price of a service you’ll probably forget to cancel if you aren’t already a member? Maybe not. But this fun coming-of-age fantasy adventure is well worth the hassle of stealing a friend’s password for sure.