After thirteen years, Henry Selick makes his triumphant return with Wendell and Wild, Netflix’s new animated horror comedy, co-written by Jordan Peele.
The film, which is co-written by Selick and Jordan Peele, tells the story of Kat Elliot, a young rebellious girl who is tormented by both proverbial and literal demons of her past. Kat is sent to a boarding school in her hometown of Rust Bank, to which she has not returned since the tragic death of her parents. She sets out on a journey to try to resurrect her parents with the help of demons Wendell and Wild, who are seeking to make a demon amusement park. However, as Kat goes along with the plan, she begins to uncover some shady secrets surrounding some of the mysteries in Rust Bank.
Wendell and Wild will certainly appease fans of Selick’s previous work, as the director has not released a film since Coraline (2009). All of his signature aspects are still there: the macabre undertones, the ability to somehow strike a balance of lighthearted fun and creepy antics, a stellar soundtrack. In the midst of a market that seems over-saturated with computer animation, its refreshing to see a full-length stop motion film, an art form that has become too undervalued. However, Wendell and Wild offers a much heavier screenplay than Selick’s other films, but in a way that is at a service to the audience.
Jordan Peele has certainly established himself as a modern day horror icon, having written and directed modern horror hits such as Get Out (2017), for which he won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Us (2019), and this summer’s blockbuster hit, Nope. Wendell and Wild arguably showcases Peele at his best. It gives him the opportunity to return to his comedy roots (he voices Wild, while his Key and Peele counterpart Keegan-Michael Key voices Wendell), while still allowing him the chance to show off his horror chops. Peele is a master at reminding audiences that the only thing scarier than jump-scares and monsters is the social injustice and marginalization the world offers every day. Wendell and Wild does so in a way that is clear without being too on the nose, and poignant. If any Jordan Peele screenplay were to be considered for an Oscar this year, it should be this one.
The performances in this film are also strong. Peele and Key provide the voices of Wendell and Wild, the mischievous demons that simply want to create a demon amusement park. The dynamic between the two will scratch the itch of anyone who has maybe been missing Key and Peele. Lyric Ross gives a strong performance as Kat, who is the true center of the story, despite not being the titular character. The film also features a strong ensemble, which include voice performances from Angela Bassett (who can do no wrong), James Hong, Ving Rhames, and Sam Zelaya.
The animation style is as beautiful as one can expect from a Selick film, with the signature dark tones ever present. While Selick’s films generally can blur the line in terms of being too scary for children (looking at you, Coraline!), this one’s subject matter and themes definitely make it suitable for older audiences. However, Wendell and Wild is a welcome return for Selick, and a promising entry for combining modern and classic horror-comedy.
Likely: Best Animated Feature
Should Be Considered: Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay
Where to Watch: Netflix; In Select Theaters
Lives in NC, where she is on a first name basis with the owners of her favorite pho spot.
Favorite Actress: Angela Bassett