Opinion: Wendell & Wild is a dark and chilling animated ride
Just in time for Halloween comes a movie that isn’t afraid to lean into the dark, one shot at a time.
In the first five minutes “Wendel and Wilde” our teenage heroine loses her parents in a car accident, her town collapses economically, and she finds herself in the back of a prison bus, her legs shackled and her hands handcuffed.
This is cool stuff! Returning to director Henry Selick, the stop-motion animation is icy, from the muddy potholes in the roads to the clouds of steam coming out of the characters’ mouths. His script with Jordan Peele is just as chilling, a place where alienation, backstabbing and plots abound.
Selick, whose previous films include The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Coraline, this time attracted an all-star cast including Ving Rhames, James Hong, Angela Bassett, David Harewood and Peele, reunited with his old comedy partner Keegan-Michael Key.
Phil and Kay play the titular characters, a pair of average, not-so-smart demon brothers who hope to escape the troubles of Hell by escaping to the animal world and opening a fun fair. Unfortunately, their banter is a little stilted, a little less hysterical than expected.
They believe they’ve found their way out of hell in the form of 13-year-old Kat Elliott (Lyric Ross), a goth-like rebellious orphan with green hair, pierced eyebrows, knee-high platform boots, and fingerless gloves. . He carries a boombox and doesn’t play with others. “I don’t make friends,” he says. “Bad things happen to people I’m close to.”
It’s a dark tale that takes place not far from the town cemetery and coffins seem to always be open. The social critique touches on a sinister for-profit company that wants to build a prison so bad it raises the dead to get votes from the city council, and a parochial school that’s willing to make a deal with these devils to stay open.
It’s all Selick’s unique vision. Bringing a Catholic priest back from the dead requires some sly humor with hair growth cream as our two demon brothers celebrate with high fives while Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” plays on the soundtrack. In many ways, this movie has the creepiness of The Nightmare Before Christmas fused with the girl power of Coraline, but with less payoff than either.
The animation style includes the hyper-realism of backgrounds and exciting details such as messy, bubbling sauce or rusty bulldozers for human characters with stitches on their faces and often long, skinny legs. A pair of nuns look like strange fat birds, and skeletons with worms in their eyes slither about. The cute character designs are credited to designer Pablo Lobato.
Underneath it all is the story of a child’s love and guilt, and the educational and judicial system that lets him down, which drives him to bring his parents back from the dead, but it gets a little lost in the crude humor of The Addams Family. – the weirdness and shock of the level is a visual phenomenon like a demon bear for shock. For all the lovingly crafted scenery, Selick’s harrowing, frame-by-frame film is as packed as that bear.
The Netflix release of “Wendell & Wild” is rated PG-13 for some content, violence, substance use and brief strong language. Duration: 106 minutes. Two stars out of four.
MPAA definition of PG-13. Parents strongly warned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13 years of age.
Mark Kennedy is on http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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