We don’t have nearly enough Henry Selick in our cinematic lives. The director, one of the best there is when it comes to stop motion animation, made a name for himself with a stone cold classic in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Selick also has plenty of fans from James and the Giant Peach, as well as notably Coraline, but it’s been a bit since he’s been in our lives with a new work. Well, Wendell & Wild is here to change that, giving us all another horror-tinged adventure that younger audiences can handle, but older ones will adore. In a way, Wendell & Wild fits as part of a non-connected trilogy for Selick, alongside Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas. The trio make for a lot of fun, that’s for sure.
Wendell & Wild may suffer in direct comparison to The Nightmare Before Christmas, but it’s on the level of Coraline. Whether that means it’s another modern classic or just another good animated film is up to you, but know that there’s quality here. Especially during late October, it certainly has a strong appeal. Stop motion is back, baby.
Two stories intertwine here. One involves teen Kat Elliot (voice of Lyric Ross), an orphan after her parents’ tragic death as a child. The other centers on demons Wendell (voice of Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (voice of Jordan Peele), scheming to get back to the Land of the Living. Their plan not only involves tricking Buffalo Belzer (voice of Ving Rhames), but also the assistance of Kat. If all goes according to plan, they’ll be able to set up the Dream Faire they’ve longed to build. Of course, nothing goes according to plan.
As Kat is adjusting to life at a school run by Father Bests (voice of James Hong), she finds students she refers to as poodles, only connecting with arty student Raul (voice of Sam Zelaya) and Sister Helley (voice of Angela Bassett). They’ll all be in the midst of her adventure when Wendell and Wild inform her that she’s a Hell Maiden, necessary for their travels top-side. In exchange for her cooperation, she makes a demand that sets a whole adventure into motion.
This voice cast is top notch, fitting the roles like a glove. Of course, having Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele together again is a pleasure, while Lyric Ross invests her character with a heaping dose of emotion and even guilt. It’s a complex role, but one she more than pulls off. Plus, there’s veteran turns by Angela Bassett, James Hong, and Ving Rhames that are more than solid, alongside younger players like Sam Zelaya. Supporting voice players include Gabrielle Dennis, Gary Gatewood, Igal Naor, and more.
Filmmaker Henry Selick does stop motion as well as anyone in the business, so his success here is no surprise. Not only does he direct Wendell & Wild with a playful devilishness (it also looks absolutely phenomenal, as you’d expect), his screenplay, co-written with Jordan Peele, is a lot of fun. They arguably bite off a bit more than they should be chewing, resulting in a slightly bloated flick, but it’s certainly never boring. Peele and Selick combine for something unique and almost entirely pleasurable.
Wendell & Wild is one of the better animated works of the year. Even if it’s not quite on the level of The Nightmare Before Christmas, well, few things are. Henry Selick having a new film out is an empirical good, not just for the stop-motion world, but cinema on the whole. Now on Netflix, the movie is a great pre-Halloween option for just about the whole family.