Wendell & Wild Brings Back More Stop-Motion Fun
Wendell & Wild, out the gate, was something I knew I would review. A Henry Selick involved, stop-motion, punk-music soundtrack-ed, children’s horror movie co-written by Jordan Peele—are you kidding me with this? It’s no secret that Coraline is one of my favorite movies, and it’s widely known how much I like horror and macabre stuff.
And, what’s even better, is the movie knows its micro-genre. The plot feels so naturally a part of the legacy. Particularly Corpse Bride, with its heavy focus on undead shenanigans, loss, and the corruptive nature of greed.
This Movie Respects That Kids Can Handle Its Plot
It’s also, and this is important for children’s horror, actually macabre. None of that dancing around bleak topics. Wendell & Wild has blood, on-screen death, poignant social commentary, and creepy demon designs. It blends realistic horror imagery and supernatural visuals to create a lived-in world. The mark on Kat’s hand was especially inspired. Not only is it the most distinct curse mark I’ve seen in fiction, but it also works surprisingly and creepily as a Chekhov’s gun.
These points lead me to the usual praise I have for big-budget stop-motion films: it looks so cool. The distinct way stop motion “moves” and how the art form mimics water, fire, or other non-solid objects in a three-dimensional space is both somehow nostalgic and impressive. Puppetry, Claymation, and stop motion have the same magic as any practical effect, and it warms my heart to see people are still taking a chance on it. I hope we have a future where the art form always has a big platform and its craftsmen a place of respect.
Frankly, it’s such a well-animated movie, I would’ve liked Wendell & Wild regardless of the story. Fortunately, it’s also got an engaging, emotionally resonant story that makes a lot of plot points work at once. The film may be named after the pair of demons, but Wendell & Wild is like six stories all feeding into one another. You can easily watch this movie three times or more and focus on a different line of details and foreshadowing. Kat’s tale of grief is emotionally affecting and subtly layered, and it also contributes to themes of parenthood that pop up in three places. You could also almost entirely ignore the plot’s supernatural aspects to focus on its exploration of greed, private prisons, and different generations. Honestly, I don’t feel equipped to unpack the sheer level of thought and commentary that underpins Wendell & Wild, but I’m eagerly awaiting critics better informed than me talking at length about this movie.
Wendell & Wild Has A Lot Of Thematic Layers To It
I also don’t feel equipped to weigh in on the representation. As far as I’m aware, this is the first stop-motion movie to have a trans character and to have almost every character be non-White. And that’s not even close to the full scope of humanity to which this movie gives screen time. Jordan Peele launched his career into the stratosphere with Get Out (which I, unfortunately, haven’t seen yet), and social commentary horror with high levels of representation is his wheelhouse. I trust Wendell & Wild had a huge team weighing in on all of its facets. But, as a warning, regardless of whether the scene is handled well, there’s an instance of deadnaming—and probably at least one other upsetting moment I didn’t fully catch. So, be aware.
Now, what I do feel I can talk about is the sheer number of great characters. I was initially worried there were far too many to keep track of, but like the plot points, it mostly holds together. Kat (voiced by Lyric Ross) is a wonderfully layered protagonist, easily fitting among the echelons of capable-but-not-overpowered young protagonists in creepy stories. She goes through an arc, makes hard choices, and has a lot of kickass moments. You get why she’s spikey towards others, disrespectful towards authority, and it’s all the more resonant to see her emotionally connect to characters like Sister Helley. Also, her walking through a catholic school with a boombox on her shoulder while other students look on in awe is an incredibly effective way to define a character.
Wendell & Wild Establishes Its Characters So Well
And then we have our titular demons. I’m not overly familiar with Key and Peele’s acting work, but they play wonderfully bumbling demons. I love how they switch between mostly well-meaning, earnest goofballs and murderous hell creatures. They have a palpable brotherly dynamic and some of the movie’s best movement animation. Wendell especially. His head and body shift in ways you wouldn’t expect. There’s no reason they had to add details like that, but I’m so glad they did.
As usual, with very positive reviews like this, I have the problem of complimenting every piece of solid character work I can while not doing a full dissertation. Inevitably, I will miss someone or run out of space. I apologize in advance.
So, here we go. Lightning round.
This Cast Has Lots Of Vibrant Characters To Enjoy
I love how Raul (voiced by Sam Zelaya) lit up whenever he worked with or was around art. I really want to see the off-screen moments leading up to the parents showing him their music. He has so many moments establishing his personality.
I love how they imply a whole “secret world of demon hunters” lore through Sister Helley (voiced by Angela Bassett) and Manberg (voiced by Igal Naor). You could tell that they’ve been working together for a long time.
Wendell & Wild Could Easily Have A Great Prequel
Ms. Hunter (voiced by Tantoo Cardinal) was also fantastic. I wish we could’ve had many more scenes with her, but her first scene with Kat was a solid introduction.
I also like Father Best, partially because he’s voiced by James Hong and Everything Everywhere All at Once made me a fan of his, but also because of how much personality they gave him. His desk being a treadmill and his makeover pope outfit were both tiny touches that didn’t need to be there but established so much about him.
Fun Little Details Help Establish This Story’s World
Like I said, I could keep going. A ton of characters in Wendell & Wild just feel like real people.
But we must move on, and, sadly, we eventually had to get to this part: I have some stuff to complain about. The first is that, despite my praise, this is a cluttered movie. So much stuff happens. The future vision fell out of my memory until they brought it up again. A (maybe evil?) teddy bear named Bearz-a-bub was a cute pun but was never properly explained. The plot is fast-paced, so you must roll with each thing that happens and not question it too much. And, sometimes, that’s a little unmooring. This story partially hinges on a hellish afterlife, but that’s so unexplored that I question how the afterlife(s) even work in this universe. And that’s kind of an important question to answer when multiple characters die and are brought back from the dead. Like, a catholic priest character gets really onboard for demons and resurrection with barely any concerns or follow-up questions.
There are also some random details throughout that caught my attention. The scene with the octopus was visually striking but felt pulled in from an older script. And I don’t know why there needed to be a little pet goat, but how they animated it was cute. But the big one is this: the plotline of magical compulsion is pushed past with a thematically relevant but magic-system confusing abruptness. A really big character moment for Kat happens because of mystical rules that I don’t think get any foreshadowing.
An Emotional Moment Feels A Little Too Contrived
And then there’s a specific music choice. I’m not sure how many people will notice it, but having the “cut to credits” song have extremely sexual lyrics right after a heartfelt speech from a thirteen-year-old main character was a bad choice. I get Kat loves punk music, and many punk songs have those sorts of lyrics, but they could’ve picked one without that.
Besides those various complaints, Wendell & Wild was such a fun ride. A showcase of how great stop-motion animation still is and another creepy kids’ movie to add to the classics. I sadly got to this review too late for the Halloween season, but, as I’m not the first to note, it’s a perfect pick for that time of year. If you’re looking for something creepy without being scary and densely plotted without being hard to follow, Wendell & Wild is an easy choice.
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