Review: Wendell & Wild is a stunning stop-motion vision from Henry Selick

Stop motion animation is a tedious process that requires a lot of work, but even as an art form that requires a significant time commitment, director Henry Selick has taken an unusually long time to complete his film projects. his new movie Wendell and Wildis his fifth feature in nearly 30 years and the first since 2009 Coraline. It’s a welcome return for Selleck, whose career is littered with unfulfilled efforts, even if it doesn’t live up to his greatest and most admired work.

visually Wendell and Wild She is a marvel, everything is just as amazing as the previous Selick movies CoralineAnd the James and the giant peachAnd the Nightmare Before Christmas. Character design and settings are amazingly detailed and constantly innovative, and Wendell and Wild Nothing like the brightly colored, often visually similar animated films produced by Netflix and other major outlets. It has more in common with the Netflix arthouse stop-motion movie the home Compared to any other animated film of 2022.

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narratively, Wendell and Wild Not effective, with a disjointed plot that contains a lot of characters and ideas and downplays many of them. Selick previously adapted source material from master storytellers Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman, but works here through his unpublished book, and co-wrote the screenplay with Jordan Peele. Peele is also starring alongside his former co-star key & bell Comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key as the title characters’ voices, a pair of mischievous demons.

Their names may be in the title, but Wendell and Wild aren’t really the main characters. The protagonist is Kat Elliott (Lerik Ross), a grieving 13-year-old girl still suffering from PTSD from witnessing her parents’ death in a car accident, of which she is the only survivor. Kat blames herself for distracting her father from his driving and causing the accident, and she’s spent the past five years in trouble, including time spent in juvenile detention. She gets one last chance at redemption through a release program that sends her to a Catholic boarding school in her hometown of Rust Bank.

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The death of Kat’s parents appears to have been the catalyst for the collapse of Rust Bank, which was almost deserted and filled with closed homes and closed businesses. There aren’t many students at Rust Bank Catholic, but Kat is greeted with open arms by those who remain. One pleasant surprise about Wendell and Wild is the way he spoils expectations about how famous kids will deal with the inappropriate new student. Obviously, Kat will hook up with shy transgender artist Raul (Sam Zelaya), who is a fellow outcast, but it’s not expected to see the famous trio of girls fully embracing her either.

Although Queen Bee Siobhan (Tamara Smart) is the daughter of predatory business partners who attempt to tear down what remains of Rust Bank in a private prison, she is not Kat’s opponent. Part of the problem with Wendell and Wild is that it is not always clear where the conflict lies, and that Siobhan’s parents, who eventually emerge as primary villains, have minimal existence until the last chapter. Wendell and Wild themselves take some time to reach Earth from their home in the underworld, where they toil as servants to their father, Buffalo Belzer (Ving Rhames), a demonic giant.

Selick and Peele dedicate much of their creativity to filming the bizarre version of Hell where Wendell and Wild work, and spend their time on the repetitive, underpowered task of regenerating Belzer’s hair. Belzer’s version of doom for the spirits under his care is a sort of terrifying amusement park, and his sons dream of building their own amusement park, perhaps even milder. It is those dreams that finally motivated them to travel to the land of the living, where they plan to use Belzer’s magical hair cream to resurrect the dead, just like reviving his hair.

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This plan is already complex enough without getting into Kat’s mode as a Hell, someone who can summon demons to Earth. By promising to bring her parents back to life, he makes Wendell and Wild Kat agree to facilitate their escape from the underworld. The main emotional anchor comes from Kat’s guilt alive and her desire to see her parents again, and Selick gives her some touching moments as she deals with her trauma. There are a lot of other things going on about it Wendell and Wild It hardly provides space for basic character development.

Instead, Selick and Peele focused their climax on some ruthless lectures about the dangers of private prisons, and also cast subplots of several of the supporting characters, none of which get the attention they need to be satisfactory. It was easy to immerse yourself in the emotional journeys of the title characters in Coraline And the James and the giant peachCat’s bow, however, is less satisfying. Wendell and Wild aren’t evil enough to be effective villains, but they aren’t trained well enough for their ultimate life lessons that mean a lot.

As frustrating as plotting and characterization can be, Wendell and Wild Nothing less than being charming to watch. Selick is an adorable grotesque master, and Wendell and Wild It includes everything from super cute Siobhan goats to gruesome uses of demonic body fluids. The human characters are as unique and diverse as supernatural beings, and each frame is filled with delightful little touches. The story isn’t exactly neatly built, but it provides the right framework for Selick’s distinct insights.

Wendell & Wild opens Friday, October 21 in select theaters and theaters October 28 on Netflix.

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