Henry Selick is one of the most bizarre visionaries of modern animation and, after a 13-year hiatus, returns, paired with Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, for Wendell & Wild, a phenomenal phantasmagoria that blends the dark and demented inventiveness of his previous work with the ribald humor and biting sociopolitical commentary of the comic duo. So brilliant that its only flaw is an overabundance of ideas, it’s a stop-motion triumph for the director and will be a Netflix flagship for 2022 when, following its premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival , will debut on the streaming platform on October 28.
As with Coraline And The nightmare before Christmasby Selick Wendell & Wild it is a macabre tale of demonic dimensions populated by the dead and deviant; of brave heroes damaged by tragedy and struggling with fractured families; of friendships forged through trials and tribulations; and the carnival madness involving fluffy insectoids, silly dancing skeletons, and all sorts of further otherworldly visions. Selick’s mark is a ghostly madness punctuated by pain, anger and desire, and his last of him offers it in spades, almost to the point of bursting with relaxation. It’s hard to imagine younger viewers keeping track of every strand of the insanely intertwined storyline in this odyssey, which runs, turns and turns in a loop like a roller coaster from hell. Yet Selick has never been one to indulge or pamper, and anyway, there’s so much imagination on display that multiple views will be more than welcome.
Wendell & Wild is scripted by Selick and Peele, who also do double duty to reunite with Key to give voice to the unfortunate title demons, who are stuck in a hellish realm where they have been sentenced to apply a magical hair regrowth cream to their bald head of their father and overlord Buffalo Belzer (Ving Rhames), a satanic goliath whose stomach is the platform for a Scream Faire frequented by endless screaming souls. Slender Wendell (Key) and burly Wild (Peele) are comedians and sad sacks who yearn to escape their eternal bondage and raise enough money to build their happiest Dream Faire, and they get their chance thanks to Kat (Lyric Ross), a human girl they meet through mysterious means. Apparently, when Kat comes into contact with a shape-shifting octopus, her hand becomes decorated with the mouth of a skull which gives her extraordinary powers, revealing that she is a Hellmaiden.
As described by a touching prologue, Kat lost her brewery-owner parents years ago in a car accident, which she still blames herself for causing. In the aftermath of spells in miserable foster families and a violent accident that sent her to reform school, 13-year-old Kat ends up at the Catholic high school in Rust Bank, where she is observed by Sister Helley (Angela Bassett), collides with a clique of popular (reasonably friendly) girls and befriends trans artist Raul (Sam Zelaya). Like her new acquaintance, Kat is an outcast, and an irritating one. With giant black platform boots, a plaid skirt held together by clothespins, nose and eyebrow piercings, and two large wisps of hair atop her oval head, Kat is a budding riot grrrl, and Wendell & Wild vibrates with his punk attitude, amplified by a soundtrack of lively guitar tracks like Bad Brains’ “How Low Can a Punk Get” and Living Color’s “Cult of Personality”.
Wendell & WildThe twisted story is about RCA’s gruesome principal, Father Bests (James Hong), who teams up with the local Klax Korp to rebuild the half-destroyed town of Rust Bank, which was destroyed in a fire that Raul’s mother suspects was set by society by building private prisons that will make it a mint. That collaboration eventually crosses over with Wendell and Wild once Kat summons them into the real world to bring her parents back to life (which the couple plan to do with their regenerative hair cream). Once free, however, Wendell and Wild get by on their own, only to get entangled in conflicting human affairs. Selick and Peele’s script zigzags at hyper-fast speeds and, at times, the connective tissue between its various threads wears down a little. However, the sheer swagger of their narrative generally carries on, reviving this saga as it gallops to an ending of strange resurrections, heartfelt reunions, and fighting demonstrations.
“However, the sheer swagger of their narrative generally brings to light, reviving this saga as it gallops to an ending of strange resurrections, heartfelt reunions, and fighting demonstrations.“
Selick’s CGI-optimized stop-motion is a predictable marvel, filled with spiral and curled designs, exaggerated angular and round faces and bodies, and a jaw-dropping chaos that leaps and zooms into the lively frame. Wendell & Wild it’s so wonderful that it would probably fascinate even with the sound off, even if that would negate the enjoyment of the fun and spicy dynamics of Key and Peele as the clown brothers. The comedians’ bizarre relationship is Laurel and Hardy’s style, and their madness helps give the action a whimsical personality. They are accompanied by solid turns by, among others, Rhames, Bassett and the legendary Hong, whose vocal performances boast a liveliness that matches the turbulence of the film. Better yet, Ross exudes a heartwarming measure of sentiment, allowing Kat’s fury and desperation to remain at the forefront, regardless of the material’s habit of dividing her attention between many manic points of interest.
There is also a lot of gooey gooey, splattery, and unnerving grotesque scattered throughout Wendell & Wild, who never forgets to be frantically bizarre. Selick is a master at blending the weird and the enchanting, and in succinctly and disturbingly visualizing not just traumatic accidents but how those traumas touch—As with a memory monster that Kat must learn to defeat with compassion and acceptance. His artistry is further enlivened by what can be assumed to be Peele’s political contributions, be it a collection of multicultural characters, Klax Korp’s for-profit prison plot or Kat and the company’s effort to counter that plan through the protest of activists. In its cacophonous conclusion, the film argues that holding on to the past – or losing loved ones – is ultimately impossible, but that radically changing the world is less far-fetched as long as an activist spirit remains alive. If Selick and Peele hope to convey the virtue of social commitment and challenge, theirs can be imagined Wendell & Wild aspiring live-action and animated storytellers.