Death and Delights: A Review of "Wendell & Wild"
I didn't really hear much buzz about this movie before it came out, and I had taken a Netflix break to stream My Hero Academia on Hulu in English for the first time. But last night, I wandered back to Netflix to see what animation had come out in the two months' break I took, and found this little gem. It's a stop-motion animation from director Henry Selick and produced and co-written by Jordan Peele, so I knew I had to give it a watch!
The last Henry Selick film I saw in the theater was his adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, and I really enjoyed that movie, so I had high expectations of this one going in.
I probably should have viewed this around Halloween, given its spooky, macabre mood and design, but I say, better late than never!
Two scheming demons strike a deal with a punk rock-loving teen so they can leave the Underworld and live out their dreams in the Land of the Living.
The Story: I liked the story to this. It opens with a sad enough situation, where a young Kat is riding in the car with her parents on a rainy night, leaving the root beer brewery her parents own on the riverside, and she sees a two-headed worm in the apple she was eating. She screams and her dad swerves the car when he hears her, and their vehicle goes off the bridge into the water. Kat survives but her parents don't, and this tragedy shapes her life for years to come: acting out, being locked up in juvie and released to Rust Bank's all-girl Catholic School. Soon Kat is marked as a Hell Maiden after appearing in visions seen by the demons Wendell and Wild, and they hatch a scheme to leave the underworld in exchange for bringing Kat's parents back to life. The situation goes out of control, with Kat falling in deeper with the demons, and she's also combatting her own personal demons as well--the guilt with the accident surrounding her parents' deaths.
Characters: There are a lot of characters in this movie and it's a star-studded cast. There are so many characters I'd like to talk about but I've got to narrow it down somehow! So here are the major players:
Kat (Lyric Ross) is a solid heroine. Though she's made some mistakes in her life, she's a genuinely good person--saving Siobhan from a deadly accident, for example. And she is so haunted with guilt over what happened to her parents that she comes across as really endearing in that regard. You really feel for her. She's blunt and no-nonsense, too, and her love of punk rock makes her come across as more of a badass. But it's her emotions that she feels so strongly that draws you in to her characterization.
Wendell and Wild
Right away I knew these characters were played by Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele! I loved this duo when they had their show Key & Peele on Comedy Central, so it was great to have them back as a pair of demon brothers. Wendell (Key) is the more practical of the two brothers, and Wild (Peele) has more of the outrageous personality, and they play well off of each other. They were entertaining to watch. Their main goal is to get topside to the Land of the Living to form their own "dream fair," unlike their father Buffalo Belzer's (Ving Rhames) fair, which is a form of torment for the dead in the underworld.
Raúl (Sam Zelaya) is a trans boy at the Catholic school and is an incredibly talented artist, scribbling in his notebooks and painting gorgeous murals on rooftops. He is one of the first friends Kat makes, although Kat likes to tell him, "I don't have friends." Raúl proves himself a worthy friend when Wendell and Wild go back on their promise to Kat to resurrect her parents. Raúl steals the magic demonic hair cream that revives the dead and brings Kat's parents back.
Father Best (James Hong) is the head of the Catholic school and is guilty of dealings with the Klaxons, a rich family that heads the Klaxon Korp which has decimated the town of Rust Bank. The brewery owned by Kat's parents burned down and Father Best kept mum about the Klaxons' involvement with that. He gets murdered by the Klaxons later but is revived by Wendell and Wild as they test out the hair cream on a human for the first time.
Sister Helley (Angela Bassett) is Kat's keeper at the school, a nun who is also a Hell Maiden and has experience bringing demons to the Land of the Living to be captured by the demon hunter Manberg, the school's janitor. She provides guidance to Kat and also helps her out with dealing with Wendell and Wild's shenanigans.
The Klaxons are a wealthy family consisting of Irmgard (Maxine Peake), Lane (David Harewood), and their daughter (not pictured) Siobhan (Tamara Smart). Irmgard and Lane are the villains of the movie, with their Klaxon Korp buying up all the property in Rust Bank and running the town into the ground in the hopes of building a private prison (and working an insidious juvenile offender-to-adult prisoner pipeline plan for profit). Siobhan, their daughter, is kept in the dark about a lot of it, but thanks to Kat, learns that her parents are not what they say they are. The Klaxons burned down the Rust Bank Brewery and also killed people to get their way. The only reason why they have failed in securing the prison is because the city council has voted "no" every time. But Wendell and Wild make a deal with the Klaxons to resurrect the "old guard" of the towns to secure their votes on the council in exchange for money going towards the building of the dream fair and the Catholic school.
Animation: This, this is why you want to watch this movie. The story and characters, true, but this is the cream of the crop. The stop motion animation is gorgeous and seeing every detail brought to light--the sparkles on the snow, the food from a stirring spoon splattered on a kitchen countertop, the reflection of light and color in a character's eyes--the movie is a delight. My favorite visuals come from Buffalo Belzer's underworld fair. That sequence, including the music, was excellent.
Voice Acting: I have no complaints about the acting--everybody has done a great job. But I want to give special shoutouts to Key & Peele because they played really well off of each other. I don't know if any of their banter was improvised, but that would be a nice treat if it was.
Low Points of the Film: Kind of a weird thing to focus on, but I think the ending to the film wrapped up a little too neatly. Things worked out for everyone exceptionally well. But, there's nothing wrong with happy endings!
High Points of the Film: I already mentioned Buffalo Belzer's sequence as a key animation point in the film, but also, I think Kat fighting off her personal demons from her parents' death also made for a great sequence, both animation-wise and story-wise.
Final Thoughts: This was a fun romp, perfect for those who want to keep the Halloween spirit in them year-round. I wouldn't describe anything in the movie as scary, but more creepy, and that makes this a fun family film. I especially like the focus on how to deal with guilt that haunts you, and how only you can overcome those demons. And of course, the story ends happily. I recommend this as a good addition to fans of Henry Selick and families who like movies like Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas. The style, taste, and atmosphere is all there.