Released in theaters on Nov. 13, and then onto streaming platforms Dec. 11, 2020, “Wolfwalkers” is the newest film from the Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon. It follows young Robyn Goodfellowe, an English girl in the Irish town of Kilkenny where her father Bill has been hired to hunt down a wolf pack living in a nearby forest. Along with nearly everyone else in the town, Robyn believes wolves to be dangerous and devilish. However, her perspective on the wolves changes when she befriends Mebh (pronounced Maeve), a girl who is a human when she’s awake and a wolf when she’s asleep: A wolfwalker.
Robyn is a free-spirit who feels caged within Kilkenny and longs to go hunting with her father. Bill keeps her in the town out of fear of the Lord Protector, the English ruler who runs the town with an iron fist. He believes his will is God’s and that anyone and anything who will not be tamed must be destroyed. Robyn breaks the rules anyway and ventures out of the town and into the forest. It is through this rebellion she meets Mebh. As a wolfwalker, Mebh is as fiery and wild as the mass of red hair on her head. She may be unkempt, but she is friendly and the two girls quickly form a strong bond. Due to an accidental bite in their first encounter, Robyn, too, is transformed into a wolfwalker and must learn how to be a wolf from Mebh. While she discovers the freedom she so desperately desires through this transformation, she is still trapped within the town walls. Although she tries to achieve a peaceful resolution to the conflict between the town and the wolves, Robyn soon faces a choice between what everyone tells her is right and what she believes to be right.
The film is a beautiful work of art. Designed stylistically to resemble a storybook, it provides a welcome sense of nostalgia for viewers as they watch something that, while original, is also familiar. Within its storybook folds, color is a key factor in giving depth to the larger story. The town of Kilkenny is drab and grey, as drained of color as the residents under the oppression of the Lord Protector and his soldiers. The forest, on the other hand, is green. It is lush and beautiful, full of life and most importantly, as Robyn aptly puts it, “free.” The Lord Protector’s harsh rule has no power there, and inhabitants are free to do what they want and be who they are. The colors help illustrate this contrast and firmly cement the theme of the film.
What really pulls everything together is the voice acting for the two young girls. Honor Kneafsey voices Robyn, and Eva Whittaker plays Mebh.Every line sounds so genuine. From their joyous giggles to their sorrow-filled cries, each sound they utter feels incredibly real to the point where audiences will find their hearts warmed and wrenched right along with the characters. It’s what lifts the film from being something observed to something experienced, connecting viewers with the girls and their situations. Kneafsey and Whittaker did an outstanding job presenting their given personas so their voices cannot be doubted for a moment.
“Wolfwalkers” is a gem worth more than one viewing. It is a thoroughly enjoyable film that grabs on tight and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. It earns every moment of its 103 minute runtime, and is sure not to disappoint. After a year like 2020, everyone deserves this wonderfully sweet and relatable film that pushes people to pursue what is right and what they love. “‘Wolf, wolf,’ howls the wolf. ‘Wolf, wolf, run free.’”