The newest film from Henry Selick ranks high not just among their own works but also among the best of the stop-motion genre as a whole.
Stop-motion animation has a certain charm that can’t be replicated in any other medium. It’s not just that each frame represents the effort of a team of skilled artisans working together over the course of many days.
What makes it stand out is the way in which every element—from the way light reflects off of water to the expressions on a person’s face—marks the creation of an imaginative and vibrant experience that is uncovered from the mundane.
Henry Selick, director of such classics as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Coraline,” has the ability to take an ordinary idea and turn it into something truly extraordinary. Wendell & Wild, his first film in over a decade, is a magnificent realization of all that potential. It provides a look at the very pinnacle of the shape.
The film, which is based on an unpublished book by Selick, benefits greatly from having Jordan Peele listed as a co-writer. The story incorporates the two people’s unique sensibilities, and they work in perfect harmony, proving the two to be excellent collaborators.
Kat (Lyric Ross), a young girl, grows up in a world where she has no one to turn to after an accident and claims the lives of both of her parents. During her formative years, she becomes entangled in the nightmare that is the juvenile justice system. At the age of 13, she is being given what is ostensibly a second chance by being enrolled in a local, all-female, religious school.
The area has been wiped out and is now essentially a ghost town, as established by the opening drive. A fire that wiped out her parents’ business paved the way for a private prison construction company to start evicting locals.
All of this is too much for Kat to bear, but we see that she has learned to isolate herself from the outside world and her past in order to get by. That’s before we even consider the inner demons she must conquer to ensure the town and her own future.
Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Peele) are the demonic duos who play a role in this. When the Belzer children find themselves under the control of their father, Buffalo (Ving Rhames), they learn that his magical hair cream can revive the dead.
Playing-Wise, Wendell & Wild Resembles A Cross Between Coraline And Key & Peele
Wendell & Wild, based on an unpublished novel Selick co-wrote with horror writer Clay McLeod Chapman, is a film that caters to Selick’s sentimental side by telling the story of a loner kid who embarks on a perilous quest in an independent effort to reclaim his lost joy.
Orphaned 13-year-old Kat Elliot (Lyric Ross) uses a sinister teddy bear to communicate with a pair of dopey demons who claim they can reunite her with her long-dead parents, rather than a giant peach populated by talking insects or a tiny hidden door that opens into a realm ruled by a button-eyed Other Mother.
Kat is wary of everyone after spending five years in foster care and juvenile detention. This includes the sensitive trans classmate (Sam Zelaya) who offers her help, the mysterious nun (Angela Bassett) who seems to know a lot about devil’s marks, and the chirpy trio of popular girls who hope to mold this tough girl into their perky protege.
It has all the makings of a terrifying horror film: a young person makes a pact with a demon or two. Fortunately, the little rascals’ only goal is to construct the “bemusement park” of their dreams, not Kat’s destruction.
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They are willing to resort to anything to achieve their goal, including betrayal, the use of macabre body modifications, and even the resurrection of the dead.
Along the way, the vocal performances of Key & Peele’s stars play kinetically off of one another, adding jovial mayhem to these bad brothers. Selick’s animation then ups the fright factor by adding a layer of slime, a swarm of ticks, and a group of zombie friends.
There Is A Touch Of Adolescent Angst In Wendell & Wild
Lyric Ross gives a scathing performance as the film’s protagonist Kat, bringing her anguish to life onscreen. She can’t bear any more heartbreak, so she puts on a tough exterior to keep people at bay while she deals with the ghosts of her past.
Selick’s goth-punk style, which includes facial piercings, green hair, and a Catholic School uniform adorned with safety pins and worn with fishnets and glossy black platform boots, serves as a visual representation of her sense of isolation.
Kat looks like she could step right out of an Avril Lavigne or Evanescence music video and into the mainstream; she stands out like a sore thumb among the perky preps and gremlin-like nuns.
Selick’s animation shows montage sequences of bullies and foster parents as black silhouettes with green glowing eyes, representing her inner anguish.
The soundtrack features rock songs that wail about her emotional turmoil. Her sense of alienation and the uniqueness of her suffering are conveyed even in her brief voiceover. “My demons have got names,” Kat says. “Everyone’s got demons.”
The movie’s characters refer to it as “tickling their tummies,” but it actually gives them a vision of Kat and makes them high. They start messing with her after deciding they need money to build a rival demonic theme park to their father’s.
It’s all very absurd and silly, perhaps to the point of being overstuffed, but the upbeat tenor keeps things moving. When Kat discovers the magic cream, she is determined to use it to revive her parents. The film then follows her as she embarks on an adventure that, despite its erratic nature, is rooted in a poignant and acute emotional experience.
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