Stop-motion and adult-animation are two subgenres that work incredibly well together. Unfortunately, these two genres are also the two most difficult ones to sell to an audience. However, if there’s one person who has mastered the art form it’s visionary director Henry Selick. While many look to Tim Burton as the mind behind “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” it’s Selick’s unique vision that has helped the film become a seasonal classic. This October also brought about my first viewing of “Coraline,” and while I had my issues with the film, I can’t deny that the movie is visually stunning and Selick’s style really did elevate the film for me. Now, with help from Netflix, Selick has given us an all new animated adventure “Wendell & Wild.”
Wendell and Wild (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) are two demons who dream of one day opening their own amusement park, but are stuck providing hair care for their demon father, Buffalo Belzer (Ving Rhames). They suddenly discover their meal ticket when they come across troubled youth Koniqua “Kat” Elliot (Lyric Ross). When Kat was a little girl, her mother and father were killed in a car accident that to this day she has felt responsible for and that blame has seemingly destroyed Kat’s life ever since. Upon meeting the demons, they promise her that they can bring back her deceased parents as long as she makes it possible for them to build their park. However, things go haywire when a deceased priest (James Hong) and prison tycoons (Maxine Peake and David Harewood) attempt to use the newly awakened dead for their own financial gain.
Right off the bat, “Wendell & Wild” might be my favorite looking of all of Selick’s movies. The animation is gorgeous, in particular the environments and model work. I don’t normally pay attention to the backgrounds of films like this since I’m focused more on the characters and their animation, but here I am really blown away by the scenes in between the action. The establishing shots or the scenes of characters just walking around these different locations were visually superb to look at. The same can be said for the character designs. One aspect consistent throughout all of Selick’s works is the character designs are all both unique and memorable, with this film being no exception. There are occasionally a few background characters who look like stock characters from other animated films, but besides them, the style of this film is entirely its own.
Speaking of the characters, not only are their designs great, but the personalities they’re given are quite entertaining. Lyric Ross delivers a strong vocal performance as Kat, perfectly conveying this strong, but secretly vulnerable tone with every line. It was really nice to see Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele reunited again, and while they’re not in the movie as much as you would think, it’s just great to know that the chemistry is still there and they haven’t missed a beat. Angela Bassett also has a small part in the film, but since it’s Angela Bassett, she delivers a powerful performance no matter how little screetime she has.
Unfortunately, even if the characters by themselves are strong, there are simply way too many of them to keep track. That’s really the movie’s biggest downfall, too many things going on at once. While the characters are unique and have interesting ideas, they are moved in and out of the movie at such a rapid pace that half the time you forget they even exist. Another issue is that the characters and their motivations are really inconsistent, and that is especially noticeable with the titular demons of the movie. Every five seconds the two are switching back and forth between being heroes or villains, but not in an interesting way. Rather, it feels like several different writers are switching back and forth between each scene. To be honest, it would’ve helped the movie a lot more if the demons were just the heroes of the movie since there’s four other antagonists we have to deal with. Again, the characters themselves are memorable, but the story and shear amount of them simply leaves little room for anyone to breathe.
All in all, “Wendell & Wild” is a completely adequate animated film. The film has so many of Selick’s strengths, but it also suffers from many of his weaknesses as well. The animation is as beautiful as ever, with it truly being a one-of-a-kind film on the visual end. While the film has some wonderfully creative concepts and ideas as well as some really fun characters, it simply throws too many things at you at once. With so much going on these strong elements get lost in the fold, making for a fun, but less memorable experience.
“Wendell & Wild” is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
By Adam Beam