The stop-motion animation and puppetry in the horror-fantasy film ‘Wendell & Wild’ is so good, that for a second you might seriously wonder if it’s computer graphics made to look like stop-motion. So visually, the Halloween offering on Netflix is worth a watch, especially for animation fans who love traditional methods of storytelling.
Directed by Henry Selick, ‘Wendell & Wild’ is based on a book by Clay McLeod Chapman. While it’s got a bunch of ghosts, demons, suspicious nuns and what not, it’s nowhere as unsettling as Selick’s 2009 film ‘Coraline’. The story follows thirteen-year-old Kat (voiced by Lyric Ross) who is fresh out of juvenile prison and has been given a chance to start afresh in a Catholic school in her old town. But when two demons brothers called Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) & Wild (Jordan Peele) make contact with a teen and offer her a deal she cannot resist, she agrees to summon them, leading to unexpected consequences. Can the demons be trusted?
The conception of hell as an amusement park filled with tortured souls was a fun take on the underworld and the two scheming demon brothers Wendell and Wild are mildly hilarious. I’d say some of the stuff was on the grosser side than spooky, but was engaging nonetheless. While Selick has his own brand of animation, the dark ‘ghost town’ setting, catholic schools with old creepy nuns, cemeteries where the dead rise up… all of it reminded me of Tim Burton’s work. It evokes a very gothic atmosphere, yet isn’t very scary or spine-tickling.
Kat makes for an interesting teen protagonist who loses her parents in a tragic car accident when she was eight. There’s a strong ‘corporate greed vs small businesses’ theme. Kat is in a ghost town which used to be filled with flourishing businesses while her parents were still around, but a wealthy family looking to build a large prison facility is behind some sinister incidents that change the town’s fortune. How the demon brothers get involved into human corruption for their own goals was between interesting and silly. Angela Bassett lends her voice to Sister Helley, a pretty cool biology teacher with her own secrets, who tries keep Kat out of trouble.
All the voice actors do a fantastic job with their characters, and I love how there’s trans representation in the film. Kat becomes friends with a boy called Raul in her all girls school, who used to be Ramona before. Towards the end, the makers try to pack in too many themes, so we get a contrived ‘family means protecting each other’ kind of a lesson, which didn’t feel too heartfelt. Regardless, the ‘devil’s bargain’ is a classic trope which rarely fails to amuse, so ‘Wendell and Wild’ is engaging until the end, with a whole lot of its own rules about hell, demons and angels.
It’s a 7/10 from me.
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