Editor’s note: This story contains spoilers.
This past summer, the films I watched were dictated by my 10-year-old sister. Whether animated or live-action, they all needed to be not too scary or boring. Most of the time, my family picked films I had no interest in.
I thought Wolfwalkers, an animated supernatural film where characters turn into wolves, would bore me. However, I was wrong. During the entire film, I was on the edge of my seat, not knowing what was going to happen next.
The characters and places are gorgeously drawn, the screenplay kept me intrigued and the story is based on English and Irish history.
The 2020 film directed by Tom Moore and Ross Stewart is the third from the Irish Folklore Trilogy.
Set in 1650, the story follows Robyn Goodfellowe, a young English girl who moved to Kilkenny, Ireland, with her father Bill. Bill is on assignment from The Lord Protector, an unnamed English official who is occupying the country, to kill the local community of wolves from the town.
At first, Robyn wants to help her father and believes in his mission. But when Merlyn, Robyn’s pet bird, suddenly gets hurt and taken into the forest by a strange girl, everything changes. Upset, Robyn follows them and discovers that Mebh, the strange girl, has magically healed Merlyn. Not only is Mebh able to heal others but she is a Wolfwalker, meaning her spirit turns into a wolf every time she sleeps.
The two girls become friends and Robyn discovers the wolves are an essential part of the community’s livelihood and should be protected, putting her at odds with her father.
Ripples of reality
While watching the film, my mother, who grew up in England, became more interested in the film’s events. Lord Protector, she told us, was one of the names that Oliver Cromwell was called. During the mid-1600s, Cromwell, on behalf of England, invaded Ireland, initiating brutal wars that led to many lives lost and tearing communities apart. According to my mother, many English families moved to Ireland to help with Cromwell’s conquest, including my ancestors.
Cromwell placed bounties on the grey wolves, leading to the extermination of the wolf population. Grey wolves are a part of Irish mythology and are common characters in their folklore.
Seeing through a new lens
After this revelation, I began to see the film differently. It wasn’t just a story but a powerful retelling of horrible events and losses that shaped Irish communities.
Throughout the film, Robyn and Mebh encounter loss on multiple levels. Robyn loses her mother at a young age, Mebh’s mother is missing, the wolf population is decreasing and the community is losing their home to the English. Through these plotlines, the film portrays the amount of devastation as a result of Cromwell’s actions.
Although the film has a happy ending as the girls rescue Mebh’s mother and The Lord Protector is defeated, it still left me feeling devastated.
The harsh reality
The emotion in the film is powerful and forced me to reflect on my family’s history. I would like to think my family was like Robyn’s and stood against Cromwell’s orders, which I know was probably not the case. The reality is that Cromwell and his followers ruined the lives of many people and not everyone had the happy ending that Robyn and Mebh got.
The film’s description of Cromwell’s invasion helped me understand a part of history that shaped the countries that my ancestors were from.
The theme of loss is easy to understand, whether the audience knows about the history and folklore or not. It is also not made just for children either, as the story can teach anyone about how to process loss while not giving up. It is gripping, has teachable moments and is visually stunning.
Wolfwalkers is an important film that beautifully retells English and Irish history. The film is not gory and while it discusses difficult themes, it is not a difficult watch.