Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, Monkeybone, Coraline) is a gifted visionary. Even when his stop-motion animated movies become too outrageous or “out there”, it’s a pleasure watching him throw caution to the wind to create art. Selick has teamed up with Netflix and Academy Award winning screenwriter Jordan Peele (Get Out) for his latest stop-motion horror-fantasy Wendell & Wild, a freaky flick involving an orphan making a connection to the afterlife to make a deal with two seemingly reliable demons.
Everyone has their own hidden agenda in Selick’s flick, which is an adaptation of the filmmaker’s self-penned, unpublished storybook. The sleazy demons, Wendell and Wild (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in yet another Key & Peele reunion), have wholesome intentions of wanting to create their own fun fair above ground. They’re looking for a change of pace after being put to work by their sinister and enormous father Buffalo Belzer (Ving Rhames). Their medial task: use a makeshift tractor on their Dad’s head to plant hair cream to keep their old man’s lock crops thriving. Dad, meanwhile, tortures souls on his own theme park….located on his big belly.
The orphan, Kat (Lyric Ross), feels responsible for the death of her parents and is determined to resurrect them. However, she suspects that she may have a secret ability that may be tied to supernatural powers. Meanwhile, a sad state of affairs is brewing in Kat’s hometown, where her parents’ business kept the economy alive and is now about to be taken advantage of by malicious evildoers who intend to swallow the town up with a giant prison.
As you can sense, there’s a lot going on in Wendell & Wild. The screenplay, written by Selick and Peele, does its best to balance an array of bizarre characters and their own personal arcs and, more so than not, the script maintains its momentum. Unfortunately, these efforts come crashing down during a convoluted third act that applies too many convenient connections that are rigidly edited between each character’s perspective. The flow that Selick’s filmmaking had is compromised in order to wrap up loose ends, which is really too bad.
I wouldn’t recommend Wendell & Wild for young kids, including those whose gateway to gothic horror was Selick’s Coraline. I think the material and its morbid, sombre nature is too scary for kids. Even pre-teens who were enamoured with ParaNorman may be creeped out by it. Wendell & Wild is just right or an adult audience, though that crowd shouldn’t expect something like Sausage Party (and thank God for that). Its themes of grief, guilt, and the unexpected independence that follows will resonate more with older viewers and, having seen this type of animation before, those folks will appreciate the film’s animation more as well. The personalization of the animation is magical. Whether it’s Kat swagger or the bumbling mannerisms of Wendell and Wild, it’s some of the most perceptive animation I’ve ever seen.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie