Henry Selick, writer, director and producer of 2009’s “Coraline,” has teamed up with Netflix and the comedy duo Key and Peele for his first stop-motion animated film in over a decade: “Wendell and Wild.”
Selick is also known for directing “James and the Giant Peach,” as well as the holiday classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas” — both well known, in addition to “Coraline,” for their mildly spooky stories, notably moody atmospheres and beautifully handcrafted visuals that please children and adults alike. Not only does “Wendell and Wild” carry on these traditions, but it also builds on them, earning a PG-13 rating for its even darker tone and some weighty real-life issues that are thrown into the mix.
The film follows orphan and social outcast Kat as she finds out she can summon her own personal demons and enlists their help to bring back her deceased parents. What Kat doesn’t know is that the demons, Wendell and Wild, have a more devious plan of their own, using their cure for death to make a deal with private prison owners, Klaxon Korp, to build their own fairground.
Upon first viewing, I thought that Selick’s “Wendell and Wild” was visually captivating. The animation is so detailed and creative, you can definitely tell that Selick and his crew poured their heart into it. There were even a few specific scenes involving stop-motion puppets in 2-D animation style and scenes with shadow play that I thought were particularly inventive and delightful to watch. It’s easy to get lost in the world that Selick creates — and that’s not a complaint.
Additionally, the characters, while not quite as unique as those in other Selick films, are created and portrayed with such energy and personality that it’s hard not to love them. Of course, Key and Peele steal the show as the demons Wendell and Wild. Their well-known, improvised humor lifts the otherwise macabre film to another level.
Upon a second viewing, I can see more of where the story does not quite keep up the same level of quality. The plot has multiple threads running throughout the runtime that can become a bit overwhelming, and the whole film feels a little long. None of these problems really undermine the entire film, though, and I personally appreciate what Selick is trying to do. It’s not often that animated films outright avoid catering to children, but this film does a decent job.
In an interview for DiscussingFilm.com, Selick said, “It’s tricky business because in this country and in a lot of the world, but not the whole world, animation is just for kids. ‘Let’s make sure it’s safe enough and not so boring that the adults won’t watch it.’ I’m tired of that. It can be so much more and needs to be so much more.”
“Wendell and Wild” is definitely more than your average animated film. Not only are demons, hell maidens and zombies regular subject matter in the film, but so are privatized prisons, adventure capitalists, troubled teens and the all-too-real high-school-to-prison pipeline. Selick is not only entertaining his viewers with tales of comedic horror, but also inviting viewers to think more critically about the world around us.
With both its tremendous visuals to feast on throughout and thoughts on real-life horrors to keep chewing on after the credits roll, “Wendell and Wild” seems like a positive step forward in animation for kids and adults alike.
Kristy Puchko of Mashable.com said, “Selick's handcrafted stop-motion has long been gorgeous in its strangeness and scares. Here, he continues to push the envelope on the medium, on what topics can be explored in a kid's movie, and what he can do to dazzle us.”