“When you watch Moore and Stewart’s Wolfwalkers it is impossible to overlook the debt its existence owes creatively to Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Princess Mononoke,” I said to my 3-year-old stepdaughter as she sat on the potty. She seemed to consider this and nodded. “I don’t have any poop in my butt,” she said, and I realized that maybe I was addressing the wrong audience.
In a way, the fact that I felt moved to share my experience watching Wolfwalkers with her is a testimony to my main takeaway, the one I was trying to share with her during potty time: while ostensibly an animated movie for children, you’re going to get something special from it even if you are, legally anyway, what is considered to be an adult.
Though animated films geared towards not just the younger set are nothing new, Miyazaki has always accomplished this with a defter touch than anyone else, until, I’d argue, now. Though definitely too young for the aforementioned toilet-training 3-year-old, Wolfwalkers is a surefire winner for any kid age 6 and up.
Princess Mononoke is the perfect example of what I mean. While children watch it and see the story of young prince and a human girl who lives with wolves striking an accord in the name of protecting the forest and the gods who live there, it doesn’t take that many episodes of Captain Planet for the average old to get that it’s a movie with a parable about how humans are mistreating the natural world.
It’s the same sort of vibe with ‘Wolfwalkers’ and that extends past the obvious. Yes, both are movies that feature feral young women who live among wolves, but it’s the way the film speaks to adults and children in different but equally powerful ways that makes it such a clear successor to Miyazaki’s work.
Children watching ‘Wolfwalkers’ will be captivated by the story of Robin, a young English girl who recently moved to Ireland when her father, a hunter, was sent abroad with Oliver Cromwell and tasked with clearing the ancient forest on the edge of town.
Robin misses her life in England, in particular, she misses hunting with her father. On one forbidden trip into the strange new woods, she meets a mysterious young wolfwalker – a creature who appears human, but when asleep leaves its body in the form of a wolf. They strike up a friendship, and, without getting too spoilery, soon Robin is forced to choose between her father and protecting the wolves she’s come to love.
The adults watching will find, just like with ‘Princess Mononoke’, that this is more than a slightly frightening fairytale romp. Writer directors Tom Moore and Ross Stewart have managed to paint a vivid metaphor for the life of the Irish who were forced to bow to English law under Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century.
Moore and Stewart have the same gift as Miyazaki when it comes to creating a world that doesn’t so much as invite you in as transport you. You don’t escape into their worlds, the worlds they create entwine you just as handily as any one of Miyazaki’s burbling gooey demons or Moore and Stewart’s densely rendered emerald green Irish landscapes or flattened vivid townscape. It is as if the land itself is a character in these stories, and it’s one that won’t be ignored.
Wolfwalkers (2020) is streaming on Apple TV+.
Princess Mononoke is on HBO Max.