The Adventures of Wolfboy is available on all major streaming platforms from March 15th
In a world obsessed with the next Marvel movie or who wears the bat suit in the DC Universe, we could be forgiven for thinking that heroes only exist when immortalised in the pages of a comic book. Their shiny padded suits, special powers and belief in truth and justice mere figments of our imagination. However, in truth, heroes come in all shapes and sizes, walking among us every day. These heroes don’t need special powers, emblems or secret identities. They embody courage, conviction and a belief in a better world. Their superpower rooted in their ability to overcome the barriers the world puts in front of them daily. So who are these heroes who walk in plain sight, I hear you ask? They are all those children and adults who defy bullying, celebrate difference, overcome disability and shout ‘This is me’ from the highest rooftop.
These amazing heroes surround us as we go about our daily lives, and sometimes if we are lucky, our lives entwine through family, friendship or a brief encounter. They shine with the power of individuality, never allowing others to bring them crashing down while challenging the world around them. Now and again, a movie comes along that places these people front and centre. Sometimes these films portray real-life heroes (The Theory of Everything), and sometimes they inhabit a fantasy world (The Greatest Showman). But one thing connects them all; the struggle to overcome adversity and the importance of celebrating and furthering diversity and opportunity. The Adventures of Wolfboy is one of those rare and beautiful gems. Taking inspiration from Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and Collodi’s Pinocchio while dovetailing fantasy with reality. In a truly unique, beautiful and engaging coming of age quest and modern fairytale.
Thirteen-year-old Paul (Jaeden Martell) lives a reclusive life with his single dad (Chris Messina). Their small house sitting in the shadow of a large freeway; Pauls room his only sanctuary from the bullies outside. His only comfort a knitted balaclava that hides his condition. For, Paul is no ordinary boy, his face, arms, legs and torso covered in thick hair; his condition, Hypertrichosis, otherwise known as Werewolf Syndrome.
Pauls mum disappeared just after his birth, and for Paul, her whereabouts remain unclear. His imagination working overtime as he creates scenarios of where she might be, for example, a large gothic house deep in the country. Meanwhile, his dad struggles to help him overcome the social anxiety and bullying he faces daily: his solution, a potential school aimed at kids who are different.
However, as Paul reluctantly tries on his new school uniform, his lack of enthusiasm on show, a mysterious birthday gift sits on his bedside table. The wrapped box containing a brief note and map from his long lost mum. The said map pointing to a location in Pennsylvania, beckoning him to seek her out. And looking at the school uniform and potential cage his dad has created, he runs. The nighttime air engulfing his mind as he thinks of Pennsylvania and the final missing piece of his young life’s jigsaw.
So begins Paul’s road trip, initially becoming a circus act under the eccentric and dangerous guidance of Mr Silk (John Turturro). Before finding safety and friendship with Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore), a trans girl fighting her own battle for acceptance. Her circle of friends, including the brave and bold Rose (Eve Hewson), helping Paul explore the brave young man hidden beneath the fur. Meanwhile, Paul’s dad desperately searches the streets for his son while the police close in on Paul in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
The Adventures of Wolfboy’s fantasy roots delve deep into many of Pinocchio’s themes. Its narrative neatly split into distinct chapters that reflect the stages of Pauls quest and rising self-confidence. Paul’s opening lines, “I’m normal, I’m a regular kid; I’m just like everyone else,”. Directly reflecting Pinocchio’s journey as he wishes to be ‘normal’ and ‘real’. Equally, Paul discovers that not all people are honest in his quest. The circus he briefly joins reflecting the classic Collodi quote, “Never trust people who promise to make you rich in a day. They are generally crazy swindlers”. Here, the darkness of Collodi’s adventure is reflected through Mr Silk and the Police, both intent on stopping Paul from reaching his destination.
However, The Adventures of Wolfboy’s fantasy roots are far more socially reflective and far less moralistic in tone than Collodi’s book. With writer Olivia Dufault framing her modern fairytale in the reality of 21st-century life. Borrowing elements from Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands when discussing isolation and emergence. And Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder when exploring the effects of social anxiety and bullying. Here, Dufault couples the bullying, social segregation and pain of Paul’s world with characters experiencing their own transformations and battles. His guardian angel, first love, and support Aristiana. A trans kid fighting a world where gender is prescribed rather than individually formed and allowed to flourish and change. While Rose, a rebellious, wild and confrontational tornado, equally hides her own insecurity and pain.
This creates a multi-layered conversation on diversity, social oppression and inclusion. One that may play with fantasy elements but equally remains rooted in the here and now. Its message of self-discovery, acceptance and bravery coupled with the importance of finding your own tribe. Those special people who encourage, support and help you bring your inner hero to the surface. Their very place in your life, allowing you to stand tall and fight the ignorance and hate that still pervades many communities. Much of the film’s success in creating this voice lays with its core cast. With Martell, Giannamore and Hewson outstanding, sincere and relatable. Each portraying a mix of rebellion, fear, excitement and love in the journey taken.
When this is coupled with the assured direction of Martin Krejcí, The Adventures of Wolfboy glows with originality. Krejcí managing to navigate and embrace what could have been a potentially problematic interface between fantasy and reality. The resulting film a truly unique, engaging, loving and challenging slice of modern cinema. However, where The Adventures of Wolfboy shines is in its willingness to discuss and reflect the intersectionality of those facing discrimination. And in a world where many children and adults still face oppression and bullying alone, the message is clear; whether our differences lay in colour, gender, sexuality, appearance, or ability, we are so much stronger together than we are apart. Our inner-hero even stronger when we partner with allies in changing our school, workplace, community, nation and world.