“Wendell & Wild” Review


“Wendell and Wild” promotional image from Fandango.com

Gabi Dawson, Staff Writer

Taking on dark themes through motives of love and loss has never been a surprising jump in the world of animation, especially when it comes to director Henry Selick and his chilling history of filmmaking. With a new spin on grief, Selick is back in animation with co-director Jordan Peele, and it seems he is reaching for a place in animation that most directors only aspire to reach. Selick’s newest film, “Wendell & Wild,” played in select theaters on Oct. 21 and was released on Netflix on Oct. 28.  

The movie reminded me a lot of Selick’s previous work on “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” with its silly characters and ominous setting, but the visuals and storyline felt a lot like his 2009 hit, “Coraline.”  Selick has shown his love for alternate realms in his previous movies, but with “Wendell & Wild” he is taking his audience into a darker dimension, entering an underworld full of devilish behavior and entities. This cautionary tale of demons and cultist territory begins in a humble and bright town known as Rust Bank, where the main character Kat (Lyric Ross) galivants around town with her parents, who own the local root beer brewery that the town of Rust Bank thrives off of. On their way home, Kat and her family are passing over a bridge when Kat bites into a candy apple, discovering a filthy worm inside. She lets out a deafening scream, which sends her father into shock, distracting him and causing him to drive off of the bridge and crash the car into the water. 

Not even three minutes into the film, Kat is the only survivor and is left to deal with the traumatic grief of her parents’ deaths alone. This leads Kat to get into some trouble, and she ultimately ends up in the juvenile detention system, away from her hometown.

The movie picks up several years later when Kat is given a second chance at a private school back in Rust Bank, where she finds that her hometown has fallen to ashes and taken an economic downturn. Feeling outcasted by her prep school peers due to a love of punk rock and combat boots, she is led to her destiny as a hellmaiden when she meets her rowdy, obnoxious, and perfectly cast inner demons, Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele). When they meet Kat, Wendell and Wild are on a quest to be set free from the underworld, and they drag Kat into their elaborate master plan, with an almost impossible promise to help her see her parents again.

Make no mistake, Kat is not characterized by pity or trauma. Selick and Peele portray Kat as a strong and independent teenage girl who’s grown to accept her inner demons and draw a line between emotional and physical realms. Alongside Kat, the untamed and unhinged characters Wendell and Wild are just so out of pocket that they make perfect sense and feel like the blueprint for the term “crazy genius.” 

Watching the movie felt like visiting with an old friend who had been gone for far too long. There is a certain charm to stop motion film making that’s hard to come back to nowadays due to how advanced we’ve become in technology, but Selick is back to prove that the artistry is alive and well. “Wendell & Wild” felt like a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of what stop motion has to offer right now. The movie also provided a cozy-up-with-a-blanket type of feeling that resembled how I felt while watching “Coraline” for the first time many years ago. 

Though the plot was hard to follow at times, with several different character perspectives that all explored separate challenges, the movie itself was far more impressive than I anticipated. I expected to be mostly interested in the art style, but I actually fell in love with the story just as much as the beautiful images. Selick’s twisted and brilliant mind has created yet another astonishing piece of artwork which will carry on to be a timeless classic, held to the same standards we hold Selick’s previous work.