The Wolfwalkers – You Have Nothing to Fear from This Beast

REVIEW/NATION
by Diana Ushkar
01.04.2021
Irish Cartoon Saloon might not have the name recognition of Pixar or Ghibli but still remains a world-class animation studio. After 2009's The Secret of Kells (2008) earned the studio an Oscar Nomination with a story of magic and Viking invasions, director Tomm Moore continued his exploration of Irish identity with Song of the Sea (2014), a fantasy about a lighthouse keeper and selkies. Co-directing with Ross Stewart, Moore again digs deeper in Irish history and mythology in Wolfwalkers (2020), which has recently earned the Oscar Nomination as well.
Wolfwalkers is an animated film that reflects the beauty of ancient traditions and fights back against the temptation to surrender what little magic this world still has left.

The story follows a young English girl, Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), who has arrived in an Irish town overseen by an overbearing, Lord Protector (Simon McBurney). Robyn's father (Sean Bean) is a professional hunter, who has been tasked to kill all the wolves in the nearby forests so that the farmers could have more land for cultivating. His daughter, frustrated by the fact that she's caged in a city that doesn't really want her father or her there, wants to join him on his daily duties. Robyn is an outsider and a target of local kids' mockery, and this upsetting fact one day makes her sneak away and follow her father into the woods, in an aspiration to kill all the beasts there. Aside from those beasts, however, she meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who is a wolfwalker, a girl by day, she becomes a wolf when she's asleep so that her human body continues to lie dormant while her animal one runs around the woods.
This is an adaptation of the werewolf myth: far from being vicious monsters, wolfwalkers actually have supernatural powers of healing. Wolfwalker is Mebh's identity and she is proud of it. Even as a human, the girl leaps around on all fours, sprints through forests, howls, and roars — she's harnessing the power of nature.
But Mebh is also a child looking for her mom: the girl's mother (also a wolfwalker) lies asleep in their lair, unable to wake up, which suggests that the woman's spirit trapped in a wolf body has been caught somewhere and can't return to her child and her tribe. This is the tragedy. The simple image of a quietly sleeping mother, unable to wake up and embrace her crying daughter would make you feel like falling apart.

When Mebh accidentally bites Robyn, the latter becomes a Wolfwalker as well and learns that there's more to the wolves than she believed. Not only does she unravel the beautiful, autumnal world in the forbidden forest, a space of lush greens and burnt oranges that radiate from the screen, but she is also exposed to a unique visual experience whereby scents become illuminated in glowing, trailing auras in an otherwise dark world. Now forced to see everything from a wolf's perspective, she also recognizes that the Lord Protector's plan to kill the wolves and occupy the forest will have grief consequences for Mebh and her tribe, to whom Robyn now belongs.

As the story becomes one of Robyn finding her place outside of society, Moore and Stewart's backgrounds immerse us in the drama: the blocky, repetitive solidity of the town clashes with the dense and dreamy swirls of color and movement found in the forest and the fields. Similarly, the rough, sometimes even incomplete lines with which Robyn and Mebh are drawn in contrast with the hard edges and rough angles of the Lord Protector and his soldiers. As the conflict flames up, Wolfwalkers becomes as much a battle of line, texture, and movement as it does of characters. By the way, many critics emphasize the splendid drawing of the cartoon, as it is an example of not only animation but pure filmmaking. Its sense of character expression and use of color and detail make it continually dazzling to watch.
With this beautiful visual language, Тomm Moore and Ross Stewart complete what has been called their "Irish Folklore Trilogy" with a story that's thick with adventure and tension. This is not a reserved fairy tale like what people often expect from that genre. This is really an action movie as Robyn and Mebh seek to save a way of life and keep their darlings safe. And, of course, there are layers of subtext underneath.
First of all, the depiction of a villain character is amazing, as Lord Protector is none but Oliver Cromwell. It's clear that his title is ironic, as he doesn't protect anyone from anything. In fact, he punishes the citizens of the town at the slightest provocation and refers to anyone who isn't devoted to Catholicism as a heathen. But the lines between good and bad aren't drawn by nationality or religious belief — Robyn and her father are catholic and English, too.

Considering that matter, the film also asks questions about conformity and difference. At one point, Bill Goodfellowe tells his daughter, "We must do what we're told". She asks him why, and his response is up to something that has driven the human race for centuries: "I'm afraid." This answer is not of the reassuring message type that usually resides at the center of animated fantasies. But instead, it leads to Robyn understanding her father's motivation and those of other human beings. It eventually drives her decision to choose her fellow Wolfwalkers over Kilkenny and its narrow-minded inhabitants. The Lord Protector uses fear to maintain control over his subjects, whether by the threat of punishment or unknown mysteries hidden in the forest that use dangerous, unholy magic. But fear is the mind-killer. By understanding that her father will not do the right thing out of fear, Robyn realises how the Lord Protector manipulates Kilkenny.
Layered over the anti-authoritarian theme there is an ecological one: the town is growing, and Robyn's father has been hired to clear the wolves away of the rapidly vanishing forest nearby. It's a film about the dangerous tide of so-called progress through fear-mongering and religious certainty that stands in contrast to Nature's beauty and the mystery of the wilderness.
There are so many issues raised in the cartoon, so you can choose which particular message you'll take away from Wolfwalkers. But whichever you pick, the feeling of this rich visual feast will stay with you much longer, so just sit back and enjoy, because this is not just a delightful film but an important one.
 
The Wolfwalkers – You Have Nothing to Fear from This Beast

REVIEW/NATION
by Diana Ushkar
01.04.2021
Irish Cartoon Saloon might not have the name recognition of Pixar or Ghibli but still remains a world-class animation studio. After 2009's The Secret of Kells (2008)earned the studio an Oscar Nomination with a story of magic and Viking invasions, director Tomm Moore continued his exploration of Irish identity with Song of the Sea (2014), a fantasy about a lighthouse keeper and selkies. Co-directing with Ross Stewart, Moore again digs deeper in Irish history and mythology in Wolfwalkers (2020), which has recently earned the Oscar Nomination as well.
Wolfwalkers is an animated film that reflects the beauty of ancient traditions and fights back against the temptation to surrender what little magic this world still has left.

The story follows a young English girl, Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), who has arrived in an Irish town overseen by an overbearing, Lord Protector (Simon McBurney). Robyn's father (Sean Bean) is a professional hunter, who has been tasked to kill all the wolves in the nearby forests so that the farmers could have more land for cultivating. His daughter, frustrated by the fact that she's caged in a city that doesn't really want her father or her there, wants to join him on his daily duties. Robyn is an outsider and a target of local kids' mockery, and this upsetting fact one day makes her sneak away and follow her father into the woods, in an aspiration to kill all the beasts there. Aside from those beasts, however, she meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who is a wolfwalker, a girl by day, she becomes a wolf when she's asleep so that her human body continues to lie dormant while her animal one runs around the woods.

This is an adaptation of the werewolf myth: far from being vicious monsters, wolfwalkers actually have supernatural powers of healing. Wolfwalker is Mebh's identity and she is proud of it. Even as a human, the girl leaps around on all fours, sprints through forests, howls, and roars — she's harnessing the power of nature.
But Mebh is also a child looking for her mom: the girl's mother (also a wolfwalker) lies asleep in their lair, unable to wake up, which suggests that the woman's spirit trapped in a wolf body has been caught somewhere and can't return to her child and her tribe. This is the tragedy. The simple image of a quietly sleeping mother, unable to wake up and embrace her crying daughter would make you feel like falling apart.

When Mebh accidentally bites Robyn, the latter becomes a Wolfwalker as well and learns that there's more to the wolves than she believed. Not only does she unravel the beautiful, autumnal world in the forbidden forest, a space of lush greens and burnt oranges that radiate from the screen, but she is also exposed to a unique visual experience whereby scents become illuminated in glowing, trailing auras in an otherwise dark world. Now forced to see everything from a wolf's perspective, she also recognizes that the Lord Protector's plan to kill the wolves and occupy the forest will have grief consequences for Mebh and her tribe, to whom Robyn now belongs.

As the story becomes one of Robyn finding her place outside of society, Moore and Stewart's backgrounds immerse us in the drama: the blocky, repetitive solidity of the town clashes with the dense and dreamy swirls of color and movement found in the forest and the fields. Similarly, the rough, sometimes even incomplete lines with which Robyn and Mebh are drawn in contrast with the hard edges and rough angles of the Lord Protector and his soldiers. As the conflict flames up, Wolfwalkers becomes as much a battle of line, texture, and movement as it does of characters. By the way, many critics emphasize the splendid drawing of the cartoon, as it is an example of not only animation but pure filmmaking. Its sense of character expression and use of color and detail make it continually dazzling to watch.

With this beautiful visual language, Тomm Moore and Ross Stewart complete what has been called their "Irish Folklore Trilogy" with a story that's thick with adventure and tension. This is not a reserved fairy tale like what people often expect from that genre. This is really an action movie as Robyn and Mebh seek to save a way of life and keep their darlings safe. And, of course, there are layers of subtext underneath.
First of all, the depiction of a villain character is amazing, as Lord Protector is none but Oliver Cromwell. It's clear that his title is ironic, as he doesn't protect anyone from anything. In fact, he punishes the citizens of the town at the slightest provocation and refers to anyone who isn't devoted to Catholicism as a heathen. But the lines between good and bad aren't drawn by nationality or religious belief — Robyn and her father are catholic and English, too.

Considering that matter, the film also asks questions about conformity and difference. At one point, Bill Goodfellowe tells his daughter, "We must do what we're told". She asks him why, and his response is up to something that has driven the human race for centuries: "I'm afraid." This answer is not of the reassuring message type that usually resides at the center of animated fantasies. But instead, it leads to Robyn understanding her father's motivation and those of other human beings. It eventually drives her decision to choose her fellow Wolfwalkers over Kilkenny and its narrow-minded inhabitants. The Lord Protector uses fear to maintain control over his subjects, whether by the threat of punishment or unknown mysteries hidden in the forest that use dangerous, unholy magic. But fear is the mind-killer. By understanding that her father will not do the right thing out of fear, Robyn realises how the Lord Protector manipulates Kilkenny.

Layered over the anti-authoritarian theme there is an ecological one: the town is growing, and Robyn's father has been hired to clear the wolves away of the rapidly vanishing forest nearby. It's a film about the dangerous tide of so-called progress through fear-mongering and religious certainty that stands in contrast to Nature's beauty and the mystery of the wilderness.
There are so many issues raised in the cartoon, so you can choose which particular message you'll take away from Wolfwalkers. But whichever you pick, the feeling of this rich visual feast will stay with you much longer, so just sit back and enjoy, because this is not just a delightful film but an important one.
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