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wendell & wild

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‘Wendell & Wild’ review: Stunning animation and chemistry

Does the combination of Henry Selick’s stop-motion animation and Kay & Peele’s brand of comedy makes a successful movie?

Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

Despite being called Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, by this point everyone ought to know it was Henry Selick’s feature directorial debut, which instantly him a legend in the field of stop-motion. Having only made five films, including James and the Giant Peach and Coraline, Selick is a name to be excited about. Sharing a similar style like the aforementioned Tim Burton – who is co-developing the show Wednesday – Selick’s next venture is at Netflix, which seems to be the home for stop-motion animation as we are expecting Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio later this year. 

Based on Selick and Clay McLeod Chapman’s unpublished book of the same name, Wendell & Wild are named after two scheming demon brothers (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), who strike a deal with Kat Elliot (Lyric Ross), so they can leave the Underworld and live out their dreams in the Land of the Living. 

Produced and co-written by Peele, who is reunited with his comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key, this film will delight those who watched their sketch comedy show Key & Peele. Voicing the two eponymous demons, their chemistry just bounces off one another like two brothers squabbling with each other and screwing everyone else over. Peele’s influence is also felt as given his own directorial films have a cast that is predominately non-white, the same goes here, attracting big names like Angela Bassett and James Hong, who are having a blast in something that is comically dark. The film even features a trans boy (Sam Zelaya) as a principal character, proving that diversity really benefits everybody. 

Despite the titular characters, the film’s emotional core is Kat, a quintessential Selick protagonist who feels like an outsider and thus everyone perceives her as a weirdo during her time in an all-girls school. Feeling guilty over the accidental death of her parents, it is the self-loathing that drives Kat, who is not asking for friends nor advice from the one teacher who is willing to help. Through her deal with Wendell & Wild, who falsely promises her to resurrect her parents, Kat hopes to find redemption, even if it could disaster for everyone else around her. Lyric Ross voices Kat with such warmth and attitude, it makes you wish the film wasn’t about everything else. 

Given the unpublished source material, there is the sense that Selick is trying to say a lot with a running time of 105 minutes. Along with Wendell & Wild’s scheme, which was conceived as a way of denying their father Buffalo Belzer (delightfully voiced by Ving Rhames), you have the greedy Father Bests who is in cohorts with the evil Klaxon Korp who have bought everything in the town for the benefits of its two owners and nobody else. There is even a whole subplot about demon hunting, and thus the whole thing can feel unfocused and given Selick’s previous films had always had a dark edge as family movies, the content of the PG-13-rated Wendell & Wild makes you wonder who the film really is for. 

Fortunately, Selick continues to dazzle with stunning stop-motion photography, in where there are imaginatively well-crafted set-pieces such as Buffalo Belzer himself, who uses his own massive belly to situate his fairground where souls partake. Selick is a director that is always experimenting with his animation, part of the movie was done as cutout animation to make the puppets look more two-dimensional and you can definitely see that in the design of Wendell & Wild themselves.

wendell & wild
‘Wendell & Wild’ review: Stunning animation and chemistry
Wendell & Wild
If Henry Selick's fifth feature was less cluttered when it comes to plot, it would have been more successful. However, Wendell & Wild has plenty to enjoy from its humor to animation.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Selick continues to be a master in stop-motion animation, whilst experimenting with new techniques.
A dramatic exploration on teenage self-loathing and redemption.
An impressive cast of voice actors that is very open to diversity,
With so may characters and subplots, the overall narrative can go unfocused.
With a PG-13 rating, which suggests some strong content, might upset the younger viewers.

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