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Review: Wendell & Wild (Netflix)

October 27, 2022

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Wendell & Wild, which is being released directly to Netflix for Halloween following its premiere at TIFF, is the latest stop motion film from director Henry Selick, the creative mastermind behind classics like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline.

This is Selick’s first film since the Neil Gaiman adaptation Coraline back in 2009, so there is a lot riding on it in terms of expectations. If Wendell & Wild struggles at times with a slightly messy story and ultimately can’t live up to Selick’s previous work, it’s still a stop motion horror comedy that delivers in terms of its animation, and comes with a refreshing PG-13 rating that does allow it to get quite dark at times.

The film follows Kat (Lyric Ross), an angry orphaned girl with a punk rock attitude who still blames herself for the death of her parents several years earlier. As part of a second chance program for juvenile delinquents, she is sent to a private Catholic school in her decaying town. At the school, she meets a colourful cast of characters, including the nun Sister Helley (Angela Bassett) and a transgender boy named Raul (Sam Zelya).

Kat also discovers that she is a Hellmaiden who not only has the power to summon demons, but has two demons of her own down in hell; title characters Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and his brother Wild (Jordan Peele). Wendell and Wild are scheming demons looking for a way to get up to Earth to open their own amusement park, and the characters allow for an animated reunion of sorts for comedy duo Key and Peele, with comic-actor-turned-genre-filmmaker Peele also having co-written the screenplay with Selick.

The stop motion animation is impressive, with a very dark, purple-hued aesthetic to it, and Selick offers up some interesting and at times ghoulish visuals, with a few recognizable homages to The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline. The troubles with Wendell & Wild lie in its storytelling. Selick and Peele present a lot of interesting ideas, but some of them only feel half-formed, and it’s ultimately a film that tries to do so many things that it can’t do them all successfully. The story is overly convoluted and goes in all sorts of directions, including subplots about corrupt developers and the prison system, and it’s underdeveloped in some key areas.

While an animated film being overly ambitious isn’t necessarily a flaw, the reach of Wendell & Wild often exceeds its grasp, which keeps it from fully coming together as a whole or really connecting on a deeper level. The screenplay feels chaotic and unfocused at times, which keeps Kat’s character arc from coming into sharper focus. We don’t really feel her grow over the course of the film, and the ending is rushed (another scene or two could have allowed it to leave more of an impact).

It’s an easily entertaining and at times spooky ride, accompanied by another good musical score by Bruno Coulais (who also did the music for Coraline). But Wendell & Wild is not as tight as it could have been. Creative visuals combined with the uneven storytelling lead to a film that is always engaging to the eye, but feels like it is not quite living up to its full potential on a narrative level. It doesn’t live up to Selick’s previous work or what we know he is capable of, but a new stop-motion work from one of the masters is still reason enough to celebrate.

Wendell & Wild will be available to stream exclusively on Netflix as of October 28th.

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