*Warning this review contains spoilers*
This was a fun and sweet movie.
The story takes place in 1650 during the height of Oliver Cromwell’s brutal invasion of Ireland. In his quest to establish English colonial rule over the Irish people, Cromwell hired a wolf hunter named Bill to kill all the wolves living in the forest so that English settlements can be built near Irish towns. Despite the obvious dangers, Bill brought his spunky daughter named Robyn with him so that they can start a new life together in a place where they are clearly unwelcome.
Even though my summary sounds serious, the movie is surprisingly lighthearted and does a great job balancing the happy moments and the darker elements of the story. Any discussion about colonization can be difficult since it’s a heavy conversation, but Wolfwalkers managed to convey the devastating impact of colonial violence through Robyn and Mebh (wolfgirl) friendship and how they tried to understand what’s happening around them from a child’s perspective.
There isn’t a lot of movies that focuses on girl friendships and the fact that I can only think of a hand full of titles is just sad. While the movie can easily be described as two kids from two different backgrounds that overcome their differences and become friends, it’s so much more than that and it really allows the viewers to experience the world they are living in. There is so much heart to Robyn and Mebh’s relationship that you can’t help, but feel sad that there are outside forces trying to ruin their special bond.
The movie dedicates enough time to each girl’s individual struggles and how they try to handle circumstances outside of their control. Robyn has to deal with bullying from Irish kids and she’s constantly pressured to conform to the limited ideas of womanhood of her time. Children tend to mimic the sentiments of the adults in their lives and after seeing the terrible things happening to their hometown because of Cromwell’s policies the Irish kids had nowhere to vent out their anger except taking it out on Robyn since she’s an “easy” target. While it isn’t fair, Robyn tries her best to deal with her problems even at the cost of her mental health.
Meanwhile, Mebh and her wolf clan have to deal with possibility of extinction due to Cromwell’s plans for deforestation. Mebh’s clan doesn’t even consider the possibly of fighting back because their primary concern is saving their remaining kinfolk. Mebh is a tough kid and tries her best to be strong while looking for her missing mother, but underneath her exterior she’s afraid for her clan’s future. Humans see her clan as monsters that needs to be tamed or exterminated so her genuine fear that she can be killed on sight is justified. Despite her grim circumstances, it’s admirable that Mebh can still find joy and laughter to help her deal with her anxiety.
Both girls are sweet kids trying to find hope and happiness in an environment that doesn’t want them to survive and thrive. Neither of them wants to be each other’s enemy and while they made mistakes along the way their strong bond helps them get through the film’s toughest moments. Honestly, the beautiful imagery that depicts their deep connection towards the end of the movie stayed with me months after I’ve seen it. Ultimately, this is a story about two little girls fighting againist the odds for their friendship and considering the difficult times we are living in, we need more wholesome stories like this.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced movie theatres and film festivals to close down, most film festivals have made virutal viewings accessible to everyone so I was able to watch this movie at TIFF 2020 without any technical problems (good job TIFF). Wolfwalkers is the third instalment to Director Tomm Moore and his team’s passionate dedication to tell Irish oral traditional stories through animation. It’s been a real joy watching Tomm and his team’s progression from the beautiful experimental visuals of The Secret of Kells to the unique use of 2D animation in both Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers.
In terms of storytelling, Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers definitely have a much better narrative structure and allows the audience to understand the spiritual aspects of the world the main characters are experiencing. According to an interview with Tomm Moore this is the final instalment to a trilogy, which I hope isn’t the case. While I can understand Tomm Moore and his team want to work on something new, I feel they have found their distinct form of storytelling reimagining Irish oral traditional stories to a contemporary audience. I hope this isn’t end since there are so much stories to explore and the selfish part of me wants to see these stories animated.
Either way, I look forward to Tomm Moore’s next project. Until then, check out Wolfwalkers, you won’t regret it.