A lot or a little?
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wolfwalkers is an Irish folktale from the filmmakers behind The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Set during England's 17th century occupation of Ireland, it explores the folktales of the titular supernatural people, who are humans while awake but transform into wolves while their bodies are sleeping. Expect violent confrontations between English forces and the wolves/wolfwalkers, including a climactic battle with weapons in which people and wolves are injured or even die. A beloved pet is believed to be dead, and a young girl is separated from and extremely worried about her mother, who's being held captive by an evil, intolerant villain. Another girl has to fight very hard to make her father listen to her. Despite its peril, this beautifully hand-drawn animated fantasy/adventure is ultimately a hopeful, if bittersweet, movie about what the enduring folktales of Ireland represent. It promotes courage, empathy, perseverance, and teamwork. There are social justice themes as well: The main character, an English girl named Robyn (voiced by Honor Kneafsey), starts to see how poorly the English treat Ireland's people and environment.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Award-winning Irish animators Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart's latest film, WOLFWALKERS, is, like their previous films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, a folktale about pagan Celtic spirits. It's set in 17th century Kilkenny, where the recently installed English Lord Protector (voiced by Simon McBurney) puts hunter Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) to work ridding the forest of a pack of wolves so that townsfolk can clear the land. Widower Bill's young daughter, Robyn (Honor Kneafsey), fancies herself a hunter, too, and goes into the forest to help her dad. There she encounters the wolves, which injure her pet falcon, Merlin. On another forbidden trip to the forest, Robyn meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a feral girl who's also a wolfwalker: a human with the ability to leave her physical body during sleep and transform into a wolf. Mebh convinces Robyn to help find her missing mother, Moll (Maria Doyle Kennedy), the queen wolfwalker, who was captured while in wolf form. As the girls grow closer and closer, Bill continues to be tasked with wiping out the wolves -- or face dire consequences.
Is it any good?
Moore and Stewart deliver another gorgeously animated, emotionally resonant medieval folktale set in an Ireland full of colorful magic, in Wolfwalkers. In their earlier film The Secret of Kells, magical wolf-girl Aisling said, "I have lived through many ages, through the eyes of salmon, deer, and wolf. I have seen the Northmen invading Ireland, destroying all in search of gold. I've seen suffering in the darkness. Yet I have seen beauty thrive in the most fragile of places." That sentiment is ever present in Wolfwalkers, too, with the central mythical creatures reduced in numbers to a mother-daughter pair who lead the remaining wolves of the forest. The people have begun to turn on their enchanted past: The English occupiers care nothing for the Irish people or the beauty of the land, only what it can provide for them. The movie focuses on the special relationship between English hunter Robyn and Irish wolfwalker Mebh, both of whom adore their one parent and desperately want to help each other.
The film's animation is, as you'd expect, breathtakingly beautiful. While the town is dark and drab, with harsh lines and scowling faces, the forest comes alive in vibrant, verdant greens and rich, earthy browns, with circular flourishes that draw the eye everywhere on the screen. It's like two worlds: the one that sustains magic and the one that rejects it. The atmospheric Celtic soundtrack adds to the story's emotional beats, and the screenplay manages to be both hopeful and heartbreaking. Wolfwalkers is, at heart, an exploration of how colonialism and empire erase local culture. These themes may not be obvious to younger viewers, but they're powerful. Families may cry together as the main characters fight for their right to exist, for their survival, in an increasingly unsympathetic and hostile environment.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the literal and figurative transformations in Wolfwakers. How does Robyn change throughout the movie? What makes her more sensitive to Mebh's concerns and welfare? Who acts like a role model in the movie? What makes them worth admiration and respect? What does it mean to help others, even if they are supposed to be your "enemy"?
If you've seen director Tomm Moore's other movies, which film's folktales or legends do you find the most fascinating: Wolfwalkers, Song of the Sea, or The Secret of Kells?
Did this movie make you want to learn more about Irish/Celtic myths and legends? What other myths are you interested in seeing depicted in a movie?
How does the fact that Robyn is a girl affect her story? Do you think a boy in her position would have been refused the opportunity to hunt with his father or sent to work in the scullery?
- In theaters: November 13, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: December 11, 2020
- Cast: Sean Bean, Honor Kneafsey, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Eva Whittaker
- Directors: Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart
- Studios: GKIDS, Apple TV+
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History, Wild Animals
- Character strengths: Courage, Empathy, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sequences of violence and peril, scary images, some thematic elements and brief language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: May 22, 2021
Our editors recommend
For kids who love magic and fantasy
Find more movies that help kids build character.
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
Streaming options powered by JustWatch