An animated film inspired by Celtic folklore offers a timely parable
Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Opens Dec. 11
Irish animation has it going on. Following the excellent The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea (both Oscar nominated) here comes the Celtic folklore-infused Wolfwalkers. What’s more, it may be the best of the bunch.
Set during the English colonization of Ireland in the 16th century, Robyn, a settler tween hungry for adventure, befriends Mebh, a wild child who turns into a wolf when she sleeps. The unlikely friendship is threatened by the king’s envoy — the Lord Protector. To win over the locals, he’s promised to burn the surrounding forest to get rid of the wolves, perceived as a threat.
Robyn, who’s the daughter of the crown’s hunter (Sean Bean), unexpectedly becomes a wolfwalker, and finds herself on the wrong side of her dad’s crossbow.
The film is an achievement in every respect: gorgeous 2D animation, compelling plot, delightful leads, and filled to the brim in meaning.
Wolfwalkers demonstrates the versatility of hand-drawn filmmaking. By using limited perspective, the movie looks compact, like a medieval tapestry or painting. But not even 103 minutes of Vermeer paintings would work without a good story.
Robyn and Mebh’a respective parents, in their efforts to keep the girls safe, put them at risk. The film makes a strong case for free-range children and allowing them to exercise judgement. There’s a feminist undertone, but it at no point overtakes the narrative, a problem too many “woke” pictures encounter (see The Craft: Legacy).
Wolfwalkers also operates at a macro level. The Lord Protector is a fundamentalist who uses religion and fear of the “other” to keep the populace under control (“tame the wolf, tame the land”). It’s a tried-and-true approach still very much alive — see every country ruled by a right-wing nut. The movie is also not kind in portraying the masses: uncaring and deluded, at best.
Every single message in Wolfwalkers rings true. It’s pro-environment, anti-populist and advocates for independent thinking. As children’s movies go, this one is way ahead of the curve.