Werewolves and #Wolfwalkers in Ireland

the Werewolves in wolfwalkers

Something a bit different today. It is the end of the year, so I’m kicking back, relaxing, and rolling with a film review of Wolfwalkers, an animation about Irish werewolves. So yes, not usual serious posting.

Wolfwalkers is a new animation film created by the Irish “Cartoon Saloon” studio based in Kilkenny in Ireland. Without giving too much away, the plot revolves around Robyn Goodfellowe and is set in Kilkenny in a very traumatic period of Irish history, it is 1650. That was the year that Oliver Cromwell laid siege to Kilkenny and eventually took the town. The actual animation has a Lord Protector who runs the town. He is not named as Oliver Cromwell, they just use the title “Lord Protector”.

Robyn, the central character, meets imp-like Mebh when out in the woods by herself. Mebh is a “wolfwalker”. That is the Irish term for werewolf. The wolves, not just Mebh but many others, are the heroes of the film and of course the Lord Protector, being a deeply religious Protestant, fills the role of the religiously fanatical intolerant ignorant bad guy.

Symbolism

The story itself is of course your typical good vs evil story in which they build up to a final showdown where good triumphs over evil. That’s not really a spoiler, it is the meta-plot of almost every single animation movie ever made.

The deeper symbolism is abundant. What makes this film truly interesting are the many layers within it. It is also a bit of a mini history lesson into Irish history and perhaps a bit of a revelation concerning the existence of tales of wolfwalkers within Irish mythology. That is not just for the movie, the makers tapped into the Irish tradition of Wolfwalkers that might not have been all that widely known outside of Ireland.

Another layer of symbolism is the big-picture being presented. Clearly the wolves are the untamed wild and distinctly Irish spirit. The Lord Protector, going beyond just Cromwell, is the folding on top of Irish Celtic culture all the centuries of foreign English oppression. Within the animation, the Lord Protector explains “What cannot be tamed must be destroyed,”, and that is in a nutshell the English in Ireland.

A plot twist is that Robyn, the central hero of the film, is English and her dad is a wolf hunter. The net effect is that we also find divided loyalties in play.

OK, small spoiler, early on Robyn is bitten and she also becomes a werewolf. That also deeply divides her loyalties between her old life where she wanted to be a wolf hunter like her dad and her new Wolfwalker life.

Incidentally, Robyn’s dad is voiced by Sean Bean. Oh come now, yes he is English, but there is no way that the Irish creators of this wonderful animation could possibly resist hiring a guy named Sean.

Overall, it is a fascinating animation and well worth checking out. You will enjoy it.

If you are wondering, IMDb gives it an 8.2 rating. That is very high, but if you have watched, they you will know it is well-deserved.

If you think that Pixar and Disney are the kings of animation then you might need to rethink that. This could be the year’s animated Oscar front-runner, contending even with Pixar’s mighty Soul (which also gets 8.2 on IMDb).

Apple TV+ have picked up Wolfwalkers and are now streaming it.

Style

To get a quick feel for the animation style, here is the official Trailer …

As for what the critics think, well they love it …

A treat. With astonishing craft and visual storytelling that howls from the screen, Cartoon Saloon have surely secured their place in the animation hall of fame.Full reviewJohn Nugent – Empire

Moore and Stewart deliver another gorgeously animated, emotionally resonant medieval folktale set in an Ireland full of colorful magic, in “Wolfwalkers”.Full reviewSandie Angulo Chen Common Sense Media

Artistically and aesthetically, Wolfwalkers wows. But theologically, it has some issues.Full review Paul Asay Plugged In

That last review caught my eye. Paul writes “theologically, it has some issues“. Here is what he advises …

Too bad the film treats Christianity so harshly.

…the movie does pit its own Lord Protector’s malicious piety against a gentle, wild and wondrous sort of paganism, where its adherents kindly heal others, appreciate a beautiful run through the woods and simply want to be left alone. … Wolfwalkers is a piece of art: A moving picture that moves us through its rich visuals, compelling characters and resonant story. But for Christian families, it’s a dark and narratively dangerous forest, too. Best guard your children, lest they be caught unawares.

For fracks sake Paul, it is a fantasy, not a sermon.

As for “good” Christian Cromwell, it is a historical fact that he was a religious fanatic who killed and deported a staggering number of Irish people for the “crime” of not believing the stuff he believed. No way did the film play up any of that, but rather toned a lot of that darkness down and simply rolling with a great story.

Depiction of the werewolves of Ossory, from Topographia Hibernica by Gerald of Wales, c. 1200

The Irish Werewolf tradition

Werewolves in Ossory, the early Irish Kingdom where Kilkenny is today, are part of a many medieval Irish, English and Norse works.

The image on the right concerns the story of a Priest who encounters humans who had become wolves. One is dying and asking the priest to grant him last rights, so he obliges.

After the priest has given communion to the woman/she-wolf, the male wolf leads him out of the woods and gives him a number of prophesies about the future of Ireland and its English invaders.

The historical myth is a fascinating twist on what you might think when you hear the word werewolf. These werewolves are also Christian Believers, and perhaps blows to smithereens Paul’s concerns about stories of werewolves being pagan.

If curious to read more about the legends of Irish werewolves, then a good place to start is perhaps here …

Regardless of what your beliefs might actually be, the film itself is something for all to enjoy.

Happy new year folks.

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