Wendell & Wild (2022) Spoiler-Free Review

Join Kat, a 13-year-old girl with supernatural abilities, as she explores a magical world filled with demons. Wendell & Wild is a thought-provoking tale about the lengths one will go for the ones they love.

The 90s: A Rich Era for Animated Television

The 90s were rich with animated television, from rerun episodes of Hanna-Barbera properties to Warner Bros. cartoons. Networks like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney were in their prime years. The three behemoths produced amazing animated shows that shaped a generation of children. Other television networks, like Fox, experimented with the medium and debuted an adult-themed stop-motion sitcom. The PJs were created by Eddie Murphy, Steve Tompkins, and Larry Wilmore. 

It was my first time seeing predominantly Black characters set in the backdrop of Chicago. The PJs is short for “The Projects,” which was inspired by the apartments in Cabrini-Green. It is also the first adult animated project to come from Touchstone Television, which is a subsidiary of Disney. The show has comedic moments, satire, and bizarre facial features. Some of them were downright terrifying. Needless to say, it impacted me, so I was over the moon to check out the latest project from Jordan Peele, Wendell & Wild. The characters strongly resemble the same style with a Tim Burton aesthetic.

Wendell & Wild: A New Stop-Motion Animated Project from Henry Selick

This is no surprise, as the man who directed and co-wrote the project is Henry Selick. You might know him for his works The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline. The film debuted on Netflix on October 28, 2022, and is adapted from the unpublished book by Clay McLeod Chapman and Henry Selick. Starring Lyric Ross, Jordan Peele, and Keegan Michael-Key. It’s about a 13-year-old girl named Katherine Elliot, or “Kat” for short, who ends up making a deal with two demon brothers. As with his previous projects, Selick used hand-made puppets instead of CGI to bring his characters to life. They range in size from 2 to 16 inches on a larger scale, while some set pieces stand as tall as 6 feet.  

There are many dark themes in the narrative, but they are balanced out by the good ones, such as identity, family, and loyalty. It is an entertaining viewing experience with unconventional jokes, strange imagery, and original environments that look like pop-up books come to life. Exaggerated features on the character’s faces make them appear fluid, in contrast to the flip-book style stop-motion is known for. It’s a must-see for fans of movies like James & The Giant Peach, a childhood favorite of mine. Substitute teachers used to play it on VHS to keep my class occupied.

A Heartwarming Story About Acceptance

Wendell (Michael-Key) is the slimmer one of the pair and likes to make plans. Wild (Peele), as the name implies, is rambunctious and goofy. Trapped in an underworld hellscape, they are forced to spend their days on the scalp of their father, Buffalo Belzer (Ving Rhames), tending to his baldness with mystical hair cream that has unpredictable effects. Other voice talents include James Hong and Angela Bassett. The setting is a unique take on the concept of Hell, as it’s not just a place but a destination called the Scream Fair. This so-called amusement park is built on the stomach of Belzer, a giant demon and the father of Wendell & Wild.

The animation is so seamless that you would think it was computer generated. It’s a wonderfully stylized world booming with color and magic. Speaking of magic, Kat (Ross) discovers she has a supernatural ability to communicate with demons, which leads to her encounter with Wendell & Wild. They want to leave Hell and build a park of their own that is fun. Wendell and Wild are mischievous beings who use underhanded methods to achieve their goal. They’re not necessarily good or evil, which can be subjective at times. This concept is explored throughout the story.

Key and Peele’s chemistry as Wendell and Wild is palpable, and their banter and bickering provide many of the movie’s comedic moments. Both of them do an excellent job of elevating the stakes. Angela Bassett, as Sister Helley, brings mystique and authority to the role. She provides the viewer with exposition through dialogue and is somewhat of a mentor for Kat. The world is so fully realized that a series could be adapted. One that continues the adventures of Kat and/or Wendell and Wild.

Selick’s signature stop-motion style is on full display here, and it’s simply breathtaking. Every frame of the film is meticulously crafted and filled with intricate details, adding depth and emotion to the characters along their journey. The characters are beautifully designed, with each monster having its own distinct look and personality that shines through.

Selick delivered a heartwarming story about acceptance, not just in the form of grief but in making new friends or discovering your found family. This is reinforced by the atmospheric melodies of Bruno Coulais, who scored the film. It’s melancholic one moment and bursting with humor the next. Although there are a few musical numbers, it is not a musical. It’s a thought-provoking tale of the lengths one will go for the people they love. It is streaming now on Netflix with a run-time of 1 hour and 35 minutes. Wendell & Wild earns a 7 out of 10.

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