The animated Jordan Peele project, WENDELL & WILD, is now streaming, but should you give it a watch?
Set in the fictional town of Rust Bank, the film centers around Kat, a wayward young girl who has lost her way after losing her parents. After an accident at her new school, she is marked as a Hell Maiden and introduced to her own personal demons, Wendell & Wild. The two scheming demon brothers enlist the aid of young Kat to summon them to the Land of the Living in exchange for bringing her parents back to life.
The film is based on the unpublished book co-written by legendary stop-motion animation director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach). Selick also finds himself at the helm of this film, his first since 2009’s Coraline.
While Selick is the director, co-writer, & co-producer of this endeavor, the film is a full-on collaboration with another prominent director, Jordan Peele (Nope, Get Out, Us), who co-wrote the screenplay and produced the film under his Monkey Paw Productions.
Peele (Wild) is also a voice actor in the film as he joins his former Key & Peele co-creator Keegan-Michael Key (Wendell) to bring the titular sinister siblings to life. The film also stars This Is Us standout Lyric Ross as Kat, Angela Bassett as Sister Helley, James Hong as Father Bests, & Ving Rhames as Buffalo Belzer.
With the minds of Selick and Peele as the creative core of the film, it will not shock you to say that this film is not your standard animated film. Featuring Selick’s trademark stop-motion chops and Peele’s trademark nightmare fuel, Wendell & Wild is a rare PG-13-rated animated film aimed more at young adults and older fans of the two prominent creators.
Ironically, the plot of this film explores, amongst other societal issues, the question posed from Peele’s most recent film: “What’s a bad miracle?” The story meets at the intersection between grief-stricken desperation & evil-born ambition. Kat would do anything to get her parents back after feeling the guilt behind their tragic accident and Wendell & Wild would relish the opportunity to leave their spotlight-hogging demon daddy behind and achieve their dreams at any cost. When Kat has to pay dearly for the miracle she so desperately wanted, she realizes that the only way for her to put things right is to put her past behind and face her demons. This feels akin to the “be careful what you wish for” theme of Coraline that worked so well for Selick years ago.
For good measure, the story does add fuel to the “bury the past, face your demons” theme with a commentary on the prison industrial complex. With the use of raising dead board members to pass a vote on a new Klax Korp Prison, Selick & Peele not so subtly bring forward the idea of letting the ideals of previous generations die out in order to move on to a brighter future.
While I enjoyed the heart of the film’s message, I don’t think the writing is successful throughout. The more the film becomes about facing Klax Korp or, for a brief moment, Buffalo Belzer, the less personal and interesting it becomes. Furthermore, the demon subplot altogether feels lacking & disjointed from Kat’s redemption story. Incredible character design aside, the demons hinge largely on the dream creation of an amusement park and magical temporary hair cream, which is far too uninteresting to hold up against the strength of the A-plot.
Overall, Wendell & Wild is an impressive visual delight with a far less impressive storyline.
Kat’s journey towards healing & moving forward is compelling enough to work, but the subplots mostly serve the animation’s success rather than the story itself. Selick’s more celebrated works tend to be more lavish & thought out in their world-building and more haunting in their villainous character creation. Maybe the genius of Burton & Gaiman fit the strengths of Selick a tad better, but this film will satisfy fans of the medium & the makers just enough to get by.
Watch Wendell & Wild if you like
The Nightmare Before Christmas
James and the Giant Peach
Isle of Dogs
MVP of Wendell & Wild
Boy, does that Cyclops boombox have great taste! Featuring songs from punk & ska legends Death, Fishbone, The Specials, & X-Ray Specks as well as classic tunes from Living Colour & Hot Chocolate, this highly curated setlist created a more aggressive slant to Kat and a more propulsive feel to crucial scenes throughout the film.
PLAY, PAUSE, OR STOP?
While not to the heights of Selick’s notable works, Wendell & Wild plays enough of the notes that make Selick & Peele near the top of their fields.