Review by Tatiana Miranda
Thirteen years after the release of Henry Selick's last animated film, Coraline, he returns with Wendell & Wild, a colorful and captivating stop-motion animation that reminds us all what we've been missing out on. Eerily reminiscent of his other works, such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, Wendell & Wild is still entirely unique in terms of its characters and comedic moments. Both are likely credited to acclaimed horror director Jordan Peele's involvement as co-screenwriter. With Selick's signature aesthetics and Peele's social commentary within the plot, Wendell & Wild is an animated film for kids, adults, and those in between.
The plot of the film centers around 13-year-old Kat, an orphan with a punk rock fashion sense and history in and out of juvie and foster homes. Finally, she ends up at a boarding school in her hometown, where she begins to have visions of the future and run-ins with two demons, Wendell and Wild. Portrayed by the dynamic comedic duo from Key & Peele, these two demons are mischief and mayhem personified. Dragging Kat into their schemes with the promise of her parent's resurrection, it becomes increasingly clear that the titular characters are not the only demons Kat is facing.
Beyond Wendell & Wild's supernatural plotline, the movie also portrays Kat as she attempts to tackle her more nonliteral demons, namely the guilt she feels regarding her parents' death. Closed off and devoid of any friends and family, Kat has no goals until she meets Wendell and Wild, who use her to leave the underworld and their father, Buffalo Belzer. Faced with the possibility of reuniting with her parents and the decaying town she grew up in, Kat sets the movie's main plot into motion. She is joined by a diverse cast of characters, such as her trans classmate Raul, the schoolmaster Father Bests, and Sister Helley, who is a teacher at Kat's school with a few secrets of her own.
While Wendell & Wild is visually overwhelming with Selick's typical intense color scheme and highly stylized character design, it is also overwhelming in terms of its plot and abundance of characters. Although the movie attempts to give equal attention to every concept it wants to tackle, some get hidden in the sea of distinct character introductions and gags between Wendell and Wild. Some of the movie's fast-paced nature could be chalked up to the state of modern animation as it attempts to hold the attention of its target audience. However, it is especially disorienting coming from Selick, who has previously been known for his more straightforward but still incredibly exciting stories.
Although Wendell & Wild has its flaws, it easily knocks other recent animated films out of the park. It also marks the return of Selick, which will hopefully lead to more movies of his and the future, and maybe even a second try at a more cohesive collaboration between him and Peele.
Wendell & Wild screened at the 2022 edition of NewFest, which runs October 13-25.