Wendell & Wild (2022) – Reel Review

A young girl is enlisted by two scheming demons, Wendell and Wild, in order to bring them to the land of the living.

Director: Henry Selick | 1h 45mins | Animation, Comedy

Despite animation and technology changing over the years stop-motion animation has remained a mainstay. There is something undeniably intoxicating about the style, able to create a certain warmth and tone that computerised animation has always struggled with. Henry Selick is one filmmaker who’s established his name through the medium, and Wendell & Wild marks his long awaited return since his 2009 hit creepshow, Coraline. 

Much like Coraline, Wendell & Wild lavishes in the spooky storytelling while embracing the wholesome fun that comes with such a tone. However, the film struggles to grasp you and really stay with you. You could argue its Netflix distribution is partly at fault – with so many films melting into its enormous catalogue – but its dense story eventually begins to fall over itself, leaving very little to resonate when the film is over.

Kat, a troubled teen still blaming herself for her parents death, is summoned as a Hell Maiden by two nose-dwelling demons named Wendell and Wild. Both Earth and the hell-fair underworld are animated to perfection, finding the film’s voice just as well as Selick’s previous work. But, as the story unravels, and powers are discovered and real estate corruption is uncovered, the film begins to lose the controlled chaos that makes it so charming. 

The screenplay comes from Selick as well as his co-writer, Jordan Peele. There are essences of both writers in the story, Peele’s 21st Century sensibility and panache for comedy (rejoining with Keegan Michael-Key to play the titular demons) and Selick’s comfort for creating such warm and horrifying worlds mesh wonderfully to create an animation with a distinct voice. And while the actual narrative doesn’t always linger in the mind, the film’s world, humour and tone are wonderfully balanced to give us a final product that oozes originality. 

The reason Kat summons the two demons is their promise of her parents’ resurrection. The more tender moments of the film come from scenes of reflection and grief from Kat, something that is incredibly hard to do in a film so willing to be fantastical. Other characters do manage their own redemption but they are fleeting, but thankfully Kat’s redemptive arc is told with maturity – never giving in to the craziness around it and really giving the film some heart. 

Wendell & Wild may not be perfect, always in fear of overcomplicating itself and lacking a punch that sticks with you, but its charming animation and grounded sensibility make for a much more mature viewing experience than you might expect. Selick’s voice as a filmmaker is undeniable and it’s a voice that’s been sorely missed.

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