WENDELL & WILD
Starring: Lyric Ross, Keegan Michael-Key, Jordan Peele, Angela Bassett, James Hong, Sam Zelaya, and Ving Rhames
Director: Henry Selick
I was excited for Wendell & Wild, but walked away disappointed. I’ll begin with the positives… I loved the stop-motion animation, and the character designs are very creative and visually striking. However, the film’s story is nonsensical. I’m pretty sure it’s a metaphor for the prison system, which is a weird and specific message for a kids’ movie, but, also, maybe I’m wrong about that being the point. Either way, the story is so all over the place, with something about amusement parks and hair cream, that I couldn’t really make sense of it all. I really wish I liked it more than I did.
My respect for the difficulty and precision put into stop-motion animation will always factor into a rating. To that point, on a technical level, Wendell & Wild is fantastic. The character design feels fresh, and different types of animation are used seamlessly throughout. Director Henry Selick is back, folks. However, the story feels oddly familiar. For a unique plotline, many of the story beats feel overdone, as if I’d seen this film before. Perhaps the idea of Wendell & Wild would be better served as a series so we could flesh these characters out more because, as it stands, it’s a tad forgettable.
Netflix’s Wendell & Wild boasts a ton of top shelf talent behind the camera, including legendary director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline) and the reuniting of Key & Peele (Keegan-Michael and Jordan, respectively); however, despite the impressive stop-motion animation, the movie struggled to hold my interest through its too-long runtime. Admittedly, maybe I’ve just outgrown this kind of kid-driven “horror,” but neither the humor nor the more macabre elements landed for me. The voice talent does a solid job, and there is a nice message to take away, but this one is probably best left for the children.
The works of director Henry Selick, as iconic as they may be, have never resonated with me for some reason, and Wendell & Wild is no exception. The voice cast is great, and the animation is beautiful; however, the story is messy, quickly moving from one plot point to the next without much room to breathe. Instead, too much focus went into building creepily unique characters and spooky set pieces, making it that much harder to connect with much of anything. Those with a fondness for The Nightmare Before Christmas may enjoy this admittedly cool movie, but alas, it just ain’t for me.
I’ll always give films that take chances a chance of their own, but unfortunately, Wendell & Wild is one of those weird experiments that just doesn’t work. The stop-motion movement is accomplished exceedingly well, but the characters are fairly thin and the script is even weaker. Several bits of dialogue hold no conviction or comic power, while others actively made me cringe. The film is also packed with too many ideas that never get fully explored. As such, they only get minimal screentime, and the story isn’t good enough for that approach to flow correctly.
This film was reviewed by Nick, Quentin, and Adriano as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.