TIFF 2022: Wendell & Wild Review

Henry Selick combined with Key & Peele should have been the easiest and most exciting event of any year. With wendell and wild being the second animated film, the comedy duo contribute their voices together (after toy story 4), wendell and wild was set to be a welcome return to the dark but eccentric world that Selick and his team have offered us in the past, as coraline Y the nightmare before christmas. But with a busy and overcrowded plot, the film finds its personality and heart consistently lacking other stop motion classics.

Plots, Plots, Plots

The story begins with Kat (voiced by Lyric Ross), a girl whose parents own their town’s local brewery, Rust Bank. But after her parents are killed in a car accident, Kat takes responsibility for her. She spends the next several years withdrawing from the community and her friends.

Now thirteen, Kat returns to her hometown to enter an all-girls school run by father Bests (James Hong) and mysterious sister Helley (Angela Bassett). Upon her return, Kat learns that Rust Bank has become an abandoned wasteland of a city she once was. And when a town has died, opportunities arise for shadow demons. And I’m not just referring to fantastical demons, but to a corrupt corporation planning to fund a private prison to keep Rust Bank running.

So where does all this fit into the title? Well, Kat’s personal demons have names. They are Wendell (Keagan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele), two bumbling demons trying to get summoned to the real world and start an amusement park. Maybe a deal can be made? Or maybe that deal conflicts with what the corrupt tycoons want.

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selick is back

Curiously, wendell and wild doesn’t make it easy. The script has a collage of ideas in mind, from its anti-capitalist stance to its heartfelt message of overcoming past trauma. Even the private prison plot makes a compelling commentary on how the next generations of students could potentially be doomed from the start. These are all well-intentioned ideas even though they are fighting each other. the writing of wendell and wild is the result of a strange series of creative decisions: you know you’d be scratching your head when the heart of the story revolves around Kat, but the film is named after her two demons.

Meanwhile, Selick’s sensibility with dark fantasy keeps the film afloat. It’s crazy to see that he hasn’t made a new movie in thirteen years since coraline. Here, the screen is once again filled with ghosts, zombies and carnivals. Stop-motion animation keeps the picture interesting, with plenty of familiar scares, visual gags, and little details that give each character a memorable visual trait. It’s a joyous homecoming experience, as if the artist you’ve missed since childhood has finally returned to make another hit.

wendell and wild: Good Intentions and Personality

Though it never lives up to the simple charm that made Selick’s past films so riveting and rewatchable, wendell and wild however, it does mark some progress for dark animated films. The characters, for example, are more diverse: in addition to the black protagonist, we have nuns, a trans partner, an indigenous bus driver and, of course, demons. Key and Peele’s chemistry together is still just as fun and improvised as before, which could be a good introduction for kids unfamiliar with their material and horror.

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At the end of it all, the film offers a heartfelt message that quirky, even creepy, people can band together for good. With systemic corruption as the central evil of the story, the film manages to remind the audience that family and community are the things that give life to a town, not profits. The script can stumble a lot with a busy plot, but thankfully Selick helps wendell and wild reach your destination at the end.

wendell and wild screened as part of TIFF 2022, which took place from September 8 to 18. Head here for more information about the festival.

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