When it comes to stop-motion animation, no one does it like Henry Selick. If that name sounds familiar, it is because he has worked on films such as Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and Coraline to name a few. Yet with his style of stop-motion and dark fantasy storytelling, it would be hard to mistake him with Tim Burton. If one were to pay attention, you could easily see that Selick has a particular style that is easy to separate from Burton, from the thin design of the characters to the lanky way they move. While he does not have as much of a filmography, Selick has left his mark in the animation industry as a visual artist. Wendell & Wild comes from a story written by Selick and it just may be his most colorfully clean.
Wendell & Wild tells the story of 13-year-old Kat Elliot (Voice of Lyric Ross), who lost her parents (Voices of Gary Gatewood and Gabrielle Dennis) in a car accident, and ends up getting sent to juvenile hall as a result of her bitterness relating to the death of her parents. She then goes back to her hometown of Rust Bank, where she is enrolled in an all-girls Catholic school run by Father Bests (Voice of James Hong) and butts heads with a few of the girls there, along with Sister Helley (Voice of Angela Bassett).
On the other side, demon brothers Wendell (Voice of Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Voice of Jordan Peele, who produced this film under his Monkeypaw Productions studio) are living in the Underworld, doing all sorts of tasks for their father, Buffalo Belzer (Voice of Ving Rhames), a hulking beast of a devil who spends his time making all the souls bow down before him as if he is a king. Wendell and Wild want more from their lives, in which they spend making things grow with hair cream. They want to make their own fairground and will do anything to make it happen. Enter Kat, who appears in a vision Wendell has while eating the hair cream (which is supposed to have psychological effects). Along with Kat receiving a mark on the back of her hand, Wendell and Wild see it as their ticket out, and decide to appoint her as their “Hell Maiden”. Their lives eventually cross as Kat wants to revive her parents while the two demons scheme to get enough money to fund for their fair.
The story of Wendell & Wild is all over the place, as it goes from one plot device to the next; Kat getting her parents revived, Wendell and Wild tricking people to do their bidding, culminating in a demolition plot affecting the town of Rust Bank. Hidden within its colorful visuals is somewhat of a satire regarding socio-political issues with a dash of family-drama to counteract it all. Though nothing is played as sweetly as your usual children’s animated movie. Like the titular characters, Wendell & Wild thrives on mischief, and spooky fun. That, along with its aesthetic are what make Wendell & Wild overcome its lack of focus. Plus, with all the work put into it, it is really hard to knock. Stop-motion is a lot of work, which you have to give the animators credit for. As for its place in repeat Halloween viewing, I do not particularly see this as a classic on the same ranks as Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline , but maybe in a few years, it may be a potential watch among those who like their Key and Peele animated.