Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Things Only Adults Notice In Wolfwalkers

A perfectly splendid animated film has the power to bring the entire family to the couch. Wolfwalkers pulls off this magical feat. This 2020 fantasy feature, which is set in 1650, follows a young girl named Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), an aspiring hunter who dreams of following in her dad's (Bill Goodfellowe, played by Sean Bean) footsteps. The English father and daughter are summoned to Kilkenny, Ireland, a superstitious wonderland boasting an enchanted forest and a town looking to clear the nearby woods for farming. These woods are home to wolves, and Bill is tasked with killing the last pack of misunderstood creatures.

Yet it's Robyn who discovers Mebh Óg MacTíre (Eva Whittaker) and the wolves beyond the town's walls. Mebh, a free-spirited girl who fends for herself, is a "wolfwalker," a mysterious creature who can heal others and turn into a wolf at night. Although Bill and Robyn's initial intentions are to hunt the wolves (one acting out of necessity and the other out of adventure), they find their hearts shifting as the movie winds on.

From the story's treatment of wolves to the political messages hiding in plain sight, there are many elements of Wolfwalkers that go unnoticed by younger viewers. We're here to reveal those things only adults notice in this magical film.

Oliver Cromwell's crusade against wolves

Wolfwalkers' townspeople have an irrational fear of wolves. This unnecessary hatred stems from Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell's (Simon McBurney) beliefs: The authoritarian plans to eradicate the wolves so he can clear out the woods for farmland. So basically, it's the Lord Protector who makes monsters out of the wolves, and the townspeople follow his lead. Children aren't allowed to leave town because of this "threat." While the wolves do attack the woodcutters and livestock, they're protecting their home. The woodcutters are invading their land, not the other way around.

This element of Wolfwalkers' story is crucial, but virtually impossible for little ones (who are less likely to know much about Irish folklore and history) to spot. As the film's creators mentioned in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Oliver Cromwell was a real historical figure, and his conquest of Ireland is believed to have played a role in the extinction of the country's wolves. This event is also likely linked to folkloric tales of humans transforming into wolves after falling asleep.

A sole hunter is tasked with killing the wolves

The biggest surface issue portrayed in Wolfwalkers is the Lord Protector making the wolves public enemy number one. Yet the Lord Protector tasks Bill with eliminating the four-legged woodland creatures. Scene after scene, soldiers are seen standing in the background and acting as the Lord Protector's bodyguards. They even fall asleep while guarding the town at night, probably because they're overworked. Bill seems like an adequate hunter, and it's charitable that the Lord Protector allows him to make a living this way, but it's hard for a more seasoned viewer not to notice the absurdity surrounding this situation.

It's not ideal to use all the town's resources to kill one wolf pack, granted. But there appear to be soldiers who could help in this bloody endeavor. And, well, it seems like it would be more efficient if some soldiers helped Bill kill the wolves, as this is the main issue that stands in the way of the town expanding its farmland. So why does Bill have to do it alone? Because Cromwell is just that much of a jerk. But, of course, it's a good thing the Lord Protector puts all his trust in one person, even if it seems like he's secretly expecting Bill to fail. This allows Robyn and Mebh to befriend each other, and gives Robyn the time to change her dad's mind about hunting the wolves.

Being a wolf hunter isn't all it's cracked up to be

Although he's a fine hunter, Bill doesn't yet know that wolfwalkers are real, let alone that a wolfwalker is leading the wolf pack he's hunting. This results in Mebh disarming the traps Bill sets during the day.

Hunters are deemed heroic in this world: The townspeople look upon the profession with high regard, because hunters protect their town from deadly threats. Yet being a hunter isn't all it's cracked up to be, in ways adults, who have likely worked so-so jobs before, can easily recognize. Bill's not actually fending off vicious animals in the woods with the skills and talents all hunters supposedly possess — in fact, his everyday work is remarkably monotonous. Mostly, he sets traps all day and eventually returns to see if he caught anything. 

Now, Bill has likely seen courageous battles as a hunter, but like so many professions, hunting is glamorized — even in the 1650s. Many days are pretty tame. Of course, Bill and the Lord Protector do have an epic climactic showdown. Those are the stories that live on for ages — not so much the ones about an average Thursday wrangling snares.

Robyn Goodfellowe spurns gender roles

Some of Wolfwalkers' character choices might go over the heads of younger viewers, but they're hard to miss for adults. Robyn, for example, bucks traditional gender roles in a major way. She wants to be a hunter like her dad, but society wants her to stay out of the way and clean up after the men. Yet she doesn't accept that undesired path, and continues to do what she wants to do.

It's not always easy for Robyn to follow her heart, however. Although Bill is mostly accepting of Robyn's choices, her duties do include such traditional work as sweeping the floor and making sure everything is tidy. That's what's expected of women during this time, after all — and for far too long after, for that matter. The Lord Protector even forces Robyn to work at the scullery during the day, where she cleans while wearing a maid uniform. Luckily, Robyn continues to fight conformity. She befriends Mebh, and goes on adventures in the colorful forest — a dramatic contrast to life in the scullery. In the end, she gets to be the person she's always wanted to be. Even if she doesn't become a hunter, as first desired, she doesn't give into strict repression, nor does she settle for a life she never wanted.

Robyn and Mebh are children who take care of themselves

Times were different in the 1600s. Children weren't raised how they are now, with around-the-clock supervision and caretaking. Yet it's still hard for an adult viewer not to notice that the movie's two greatest heroes, Robyn and Mebh, are children who are alone far too often.

Robyn is expected to stay at home (and clean) while her dad hunts. She doesn't have a mom and fends for herself. Robyn does, however, have shelter, which is more than what Mebh, a girl who lives in the woods, can say. In case it's not clear, the woods are no place for a child, even if said child can turn into a wolf at night. Yet Mebh is a wolfwalker, and prefers the free lifestyle of not being surrounded by four walls. Even so, things are bad: Mebh's mother, Moll MacTíre (Maria Doyle Kennedy), has been captured by the Lord Protector. Mebh assumes her mother, whose sleeping human form Mebh guards, is out searching for a new home.

It's hard not to feel bad for these children, especially with a modern perspective, as they seemingly have to cook all their meals and don't go to school. More crucially, both girls are stuck in a purgatory of loneliness, and want to spend more time with their parents. Luckily, they meet each other, and their lives are forever changed.

Robyn and Mebh's unique relationship

There are a whole lot of subtleties and non-traditional elements involved in Robyn and Mebh's friendship. Most will go over a child's head, but not a savvy adult's. Robyn and Mebh, on the surface, are friends. However, Wolfwalkers gives off some distinct LGBTQ+ vibes in portraying their relationship.

While Robyn's life in town is dull, limited, and sexist, she's gifted with the physical and emotional freedom she's always desired in the woods, a place that's full of life and possibility. Mebh is the leader of the pack despite being a child and a girl, and the wolves, refreshingly, don't challenge her authority, despite the fact that leaders during these times (and long after, unfortunately) were expected to be male. Neither young woman conforms to gender roles: Robyn prefers to hunt rather than clean, and Mebh is wild, free, and welcomingly more concerned with her happiness than with stereotypical characteristics of success and beauty. Their gender non-conformity, combined with the portrayal of the woods as a place of open expression, offers interesting subtext for any seasoned viewer to explore.

Yes, Mebh and Robyn are children, and they live during an undeniably hard time for women and LGBTQ+ people. Whether audience members choose to read into the undertones of their relationship is up to them. But one thing's certain: Robyn and Mebh find happiness and support in one another.

Robyn and her father are disliked because they're foreign

It's not always easy for a younger mind to spot social injustices, especially when they're pumped into an animated film with a PG rating. One such injustice in Wolfwalkers is that Robyn and her father aren't liked because of where they came from. Essentially English immigrants, Robyn and Bill are outsiders in their new home. While the Lord Protector is nice enough to give Bill a job as a hunter, he also threatens to make Bill a foot soldier if he doesn't kill the wolves (entirely by himself).

Even the bullying hunter children punish Robyn for being from another place. She's also a girl who wants to be a hunter, which doesn't really help her case. Adults will notice all of this shaming as a very old form of ugliness and prejudice. Robyn, however, knows how to stand up for herself, and she's also a talented young hunter. Even Bill sticks it to the man by the movie's end, after he defeats the Lord Protector in combat.

Being a wolfwalker sounds exhausting

The life of a wolfwalker can sound enticing. Normal human by day and full-blown wolf by night — you get the best of both worlds. This concept, however, sounds extremely exhausting when an adult mind mulls over the logistics. For one thing, wolfwalkers' minds are constantly awake. When in their human forms, wolfwalkers are alert and conscious. Yet when they become wolves at night as their human bodies rest, their minds are still on.

When exactly does a wolfwalker's mind get to rest? From the sound of it, never. While the concept of becoming a wolfwalker is spiritual and supernatural and therefore somewhat beyond mortal concerns like sleep, it's hard not to notice how tiresome that life would be. As adults well know, lack of rest is one of the most frustrating (and common) problems a person can endure. Without sleep, people go mad — or worse, die. Even if the life of a wolfwalker somehow magically erases these concerns, knowing what life is like with too little sleep, as so many adults do, makes a fantasy of no sleep a lot less intriguing.

Burning the forest to get rid of the wolves would cause more harm than good

The Lord Protector decides to eradicate the wolf population by burning their home, the woods, to the ground. This plan would, to say the least, cause more harm than good for everyone, as any adult viewer will immediately deduce.

The Lord Protector wants to use this land for farming. But a fire could easily damage the land so badly that farming might not be possible. Moreover, the forest is full of necessary resources the town uses every day: Most obviously, the woodcutters wouldn't have wood to cut if the woods were set ablaze. What are people going to do for lumber and firewood? The Lord Protector's plan is bizarre, short-sighted, simple-minded, and absolutely devastating to the health of his subjects. Burning down the forest to get rid of one group of wolves would cause more harm than good by pretty much any measure.

Underlying themes of conservation

Wolfwalkers isn't lacking for underlying themes and meanings. One such hidden message is an ecologically-minded one, urging viewers to respect and conserve nature. It's clear that the woods are where the wolves live, and they need the forest for shelter, food, and water. The threat to the woods is why Moll is searching for a new place to live — yet the pack can't leave until she finds a new home. All viewers get this, but only adults will grasp the real-world implications of this crisis, having seen ecological destruction play out on the news (and sometimes, in their own communities).

The horror of deforestation has serious ramifications in Wolfwalkers. The film portrays this by showing how beautiful the forest is, as well as its role as a home to the misunderstood wolf pack. Yes, the wolves attack the workers and livestock, but that's out of survival, as colonization and encroachment have taken valuable resources away. This is another theme only adults will understand: The complex interplay between ecological and human concerns. The wolves attack, but they also appear to be scaring away the intruders who are destroying the forest. Children would be able to leave the confines of the town if they didn't fear getting attacked by wolves, yet the wolves wouldn't attack if their home wasn't being destroyed.

Wolfwalkers is unapologetically political

Wolves get a bad rap in fairy tales. If they aren't blowing down the houses of little pigs, they're painted as monstrous creatures in other crude ways. This is one trope Wolfwalkers uses in an unapologetically political way: Here, wolves are misunderstood outsiders who others scapegoat for their own aims. History is littered with ugliness of this sort, and adult viewers know that Wolfwalkers wants to bring that legacy to mind.

That's not the only way Wolfwalkers brings politics and history into the mix. Children (Robyn and Mebh specifically) are encouraged to challenge authority in Wolfwalkers, as well as take down the patriarchy. Wolfwalkers dabbles in the conflict between the locals (the Irish) and the invaders (the English). There's a religious allegory, if viewers are willing to peel back the layers of the Lord Protector's beliefs. Even Robyn and Mebh's friendship makes a statement.

Ultimately, of course, Wolfwalkers is a magically layered story that has something for the whole family. These realizations might land differently for kids and adults, but all viewers are united in appreciating the fantasy wonderland that is Wolfwalkers.