Review: Animated Wendell & Wild Arrives Just In Time for a Perfect Halloween Watch

It’s difficult to wrap my brain around the fact that one of the most talented and twisted minds in stop-motion animation, Henry Selick, hasn’t made a new feature film since 2009’s Coraline. The maker of The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and yes, even Monkeybone, is ripe for rediscovery by an entirely new generation of animation lovers, which is why Wendell & Wild is such a kick. Selick has joined forces with Jordan Peele (who produced and co-wrote the screenplay with Selick) on this perfect-for-Halloween tale about demon brothers Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Peele). They enlist the help of a 13-year-old orphan girl named Kat Elliot (Lyric Ross), who it turns out is a Hellmaiden who can summon demons. They need her help to bring them to the land of the living where they can earn/steal money to build a demon amusement park, just like the one where they work, literally located on their demon boss Buffalo Belzer’s (Ving Rhames) body.

Kat is willing to consider this arrangement because she carries with her a great deal of guilt from her parents’ deaths many years earlier in a car crash that was the result of her distracting them. Wendell & Wild have actually discovered that a special creme they use on their boss’s hair also can bring back the dead, and Kat wants these demons to resurrect her parents as part of their deal with her. Meanwhile, Sister Helley (Angela Bassett), from the Catholic girls school Kat attends, gets involved and tries to stop this unholy arrangement, while the school headmaster, Father Bests (James Hong), cuts his own deal with the demons for his own political purposes. The plot is perhaps overly complicated, the animation style is bizarre, and Selick isn’t afraid to confront the idea and look of death head on (and off, sometimes).

The humor in Wendell & Wild is sometimes a bit too childish and obvious, but it’s also dark and sometimes nasty, something that isn’t common in any style of animation. But to me, the pure joy of the work is the animation itself, which is deliberately rough around the edges (you can see the jawlines of the characters quite often) and has that great hand-built and homemade feel to the painstaking stop-motion practice. And it’s tough not to get excited about another Key and Peele reunion in animation or any other form (after Toy Story 4). The film also finds ways to get emotional, especially when Kat is eventually reunited with her undead parents, whom she never got to say goodbye to before they died. The movie is another terrific Halloween watch from Selick, and one can only hope he’ll be back to make another one sooner rather than later.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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