Wendell & Wild – Movie Review

Wendell & Wild

  • Director: Henry Selick
  • Writer: Henry Selick, Clay McLeod Chapman, Jordan Peele
  • Starring: Lyric Ross, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Angela Bassett, James Hong, Ving Rhames

Grade: B

Henry Selick may not be a household name in the same way that Hayao Miyazaki or Pete Docter or Brad Bird are, but his contributions to animated films can’t be denied. I still remember a room full of shocked faces when the answer to a trivia question announced that Tim Burton did not direct The Nightmare Before Christmas. Whenever Disney gets too cutesy with a few too many animal sidekicks, Selick manages to come back with something of a polar opposite. That he does so by pushing the stop-motion animation medium forward each time just goes to show how different the animation world would be without him.

The last time Selick made a movie, it was 2009’s Coraline, which also happened to be one of the early effective pioneers of 3D filmmaking. His newest film, Wendell & Wild, won’t get the same luxury of being seen on a large screen but is visually impressive nonetheless. Selick’s bread and butter has been his character design, so it saddens me to say that the work in this film is fairly tame compared to previous work. It probably doesn’t help that the majority of the film’s characters are human, though each one gets their own unique flourishes.

Wendell & Wild; Netflix

Take Kat (Lyric Ross), for example: she sports dueling green buns to support her rebellious nature. After all, her parents died in a car accident when she was 8 and she continues to blame herself, which leads her to juvie and a Catholic school for girls, ultimately. At the same time, the film shifts over to the demon world, where Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele) are toiling away, adding hair follicles to their oversized father’s scalp. For reasons that aren’t exactly fleshed out, their one true desire in life is to build a carnival, and they can’t do that unless they escape to the human world.

Kat manages to act as their vessel and bring them topside because they convince her they can bring her parents back from the dead. But wires get crossed and the film throws in a subplot about a resurrected priest (voiced by James Hong) who wants to do the bidding of a pair of industrial prison tycoons because they’ll fund his school (which just happens to be Kat’s new school). The film doesn’t feel aimless, per se; the theme of the ever-lingering grief and guilt after a loved-one’s death doesn’t stray far from the front. But it begins to feel like Selick is juggling too much, and he never fully invests in one particular storyline. I haven’t even mentioned the extremely undercooked left-field subplot about Kat’s classmate Raul (Sam Zelaya) and his ambitious art project. I would love to see an entire film about Kat, or one that focuses solely on Wendel and Wild, and their relationship with their father – or about the demon world overall.

Wendell & Wild; Netflix

Of course, the animation looks gorgeous, especially when Selick really lets his imagination run free. One scene sees Kat and her ghost-busting mentor Sister Helley (Angela Bassett) literally facing Kat’s demon as she tries to shake off the guilt of her parent’s death, and the way Selick visualizes it is one of the most imaginative animated sequences of the year. Voice performances range from fun (Hong, and Key & Peele) to borderline sleepy (Ross and Bassett), which is disappointing, given the meat these performances have to chew on.

The animation world certainly needs adult-oriented films beyond the shallow adage of “movies that both the kids AND the adults will enjoy!”, and for that, Wendell & Wild is worth celebrating. There’s a level of care and craftsmanship in stop-motion that simply can’t be replicated with hand drawn or computer generated animation, so if you’re simply looking for a technical feat that may be too spooky for the kids, you’ll be in luck. Otherwise, you may leave a little disappointed.

Wendell & Wild is available now in select theaters and will be available to stream on Netflix Friday, October 28.

OSCAR POTENTIAL:

  • 2022 has already been a solid year not only for animation, but for Netflix’s animated projects. Disney and Pixar have their heavyweights on the table like Turning Red and Lightyear – and the forthcoming Strange World – and Netflix has the current front-runner with Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (and, yes, The Sea Beast). And don’t forget about Dreamworks with The Bad Guys. Something is bound to be left in the cold, but with the likes of Selick and Key & Peele, I would be surprised if Wendell & Wild didn’t receive a Best Animated Feature nomination.

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