It’s finally happened; Henry Selick is back in the movie business! Having worked with Disney in 2012 on The Shadow King, Disney scrapped the film mid-way through production due to budgeting. After that no doubt deeply disheartening fiasco, Selick disappeared from the movie scene for over a decade, with 2009s Coraline being his last full-length feature ever released to the public. But now, 13 years later, he’s breaking his silence with Netflix’s highly anticipated Halloween feature, Wendell & Wild!
Based on an unreleased novel co-written between Henry Selick and Clay McLeod Chapman, Selick now teams up with the equally weird and wonderful mind of Jordan Peele. Together, they tell the story of a troubled teen named Kat Elliot who, following a disturbing childhood trauma, has spent most of her youth in juvenile imprisonment. Everyone’s haunted by demons, especially people like Kat. However, as she settles into her next school, Kat discovers that her demons have names; Wendell and Wild. And not only do they have names of their own, but they’ve got plans of their own too!
Naturally, the visuals are the first things we all want to discuss in a Henry Selick animation. And, as we’d expect, they’re pretty damn special. Embracing the wondrous imperfections of stop-motion animation, Wendell & Wild is a zany demonstration of how far the art form has come. The distinctively charming movement that comes as a natural by-product of the stop-motion process pairs beautifully with a striking colour palette that settles in a fascinating mid-tone between the grim and grimy The Nightmare Before Christmas and the vividly saturated James And The Giant Peach. With its quirky character designs and eerily contorted landscapes, Wendell & Wild is a visual work of art.
Of course, an animated movie such as this isn’t complete without good voice work. With Jordan Peele teaming up with his long-term comedy partner, Keegan-Michael Key, the duo take on the role of the demon brothers, Wendell and Wild. And, as expected, they play it wonderfully! Known already for their creative chemistry, the petulant back-and-forth banter made for a thoroughly believable brotherly relationship. You could tell these two had been stuck with each other all their lives, and yet, underneath all the pettiness, there was the unmistakable simmer of an unbreakable sibling bond.
Other honourable performance mentions go to the fiery voices of Ving Rhymes as the demon King, Buffalo Belzer, Tamara Hart as the sweet and well-meaning Siobhan, and Lyric Ross as our leading lady, Kat Elliot. However, one of my personal favourites was Sam Zelaya as Raúl Cocolotl. In a broad cast of big personalities, Raúl’s simple, soft-spoken friendliness was a breath of fresh air. Sweet, lovable and just trying to get through life, he’s one of the characters I rooted for the most.
But the one thing Wendell & Wild, at times, fell short on was the story. And this kills me to say as I am painfully aware that films like this are true labours of love that take years of hard work and dedication to bring to life. And the story wasn’t bad, by any means. But the pacing of it was a little off. Huge plot points and vital lore were explained and resolved at break-neck speed with a dozen payoffs that sometimes lacked substance. With a witty script and fun dialogue, the story had some really great moments. But with so many moving parts and such a huge cast of quirky characters, it was sometimes hard to keep up with who was trying to do what and why. It was, in broad terms, a delightfully enjoyable mess.
That said, Wendell & Wild is definitely worth a look! Weirdly wondrous, it’s got all the wacky components you’d expect from a movie of this ilk. It’s a great fireplace film for the cold days ahead. Moreover, it’s just really great to see Selick back on the scene. Here’s to hoping he sticks around and stays weird!
Have you seen Wendell & Wild? Is it a one-off watch for you, or is it a new Halloween classic? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!