Updated: Dec 30, 2022
[The following essay contains MAJOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
As complex and compelling as Robyn Goodefellowe, her father, and Mebh Óg MacTíre are, the town of Kilkenny is the most important character in Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers. It sits at the base of a hill, the straight lines and rigid symmetry of its architecture juxtaposed with the gentle curves and slopes of the untamed countryside. The viewer always sees it from a slightly overhead perspective, regardless of the camera angle—a visual design choice that evokes traditional woodcut art. And while it isn’t quite colorless, its palette is rather dull and drab compared to the lush, vibrant greenery of the surrounding woodland.
It is, in short, the perfect symbol for the villainous Lord Protector’s desire for absolute control.
Indeed, the Lord Protector himself is more of an idea than a man; he personifies oppression, conformity, and subjugation. He seeks to “civilize” Ireland—which, of course, means tearing down the forests, suppressing “paganism,” and punishing even the most minor acts of “rebellion.” He considers Bill Goodefellowe’s failure to cull the local wolf population, for example, to be tantamount to deliberate insubordination, and therefore demotes him to the rank of common foot soldier. He also forces Robyn to replace her earth-toned hunter’s garb (which represents her affinity for the natural world in general and Mebh in particular) with a black-and-white maid’s uniform and sends her to work in the stiflingly cramped, dreary, smoke-choked corridors of the castle.
But why do the people of Ireland tolerate this despot’s cruelty and callousness, despite their obvious distaste for British Imperialism? Bill Goodefellowe succinctly identifies the source of the Lord Protector’s power during the film’s emotional climax:
BILL: We must do what we're told!
ROBYN: But why, Father? Why?
BILL: I'm afraid! I’m afraid[…] I won’t be here to protect you forever. I’m so afraid that one day, you’ll end up in a cage.
Thus, Bill’s obedience arises not from loyalty to the crown, but from fear—he’s all too familiar with the consequences of noncompliance. While his anxiety is hardly unfounded, however, his daughter is equally correct in her observation that his meek acquiescence has merely served to trap them both in a metaphorical prison of miserable subservience.
Only by standing together in open defiance of tyranny will our protagonists be able to finally break their (figurative and literal) chains and enjoy true freedom among the Wolfwalkers.