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Henry Selick’s ‘Wendell & Wild’ sizzles as afropunk fairy tale

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NOVEMBER 08, 2022

Grade: 3.5/5.0

Demons, nuns and goats, oh my! Welcome to the world of “Wendell & Wild,” home to many supernatural phenomena and perhaps one or two punk-rock hell-maidens. Henry Selick’s animated film “Wendell & Wild” takes on the stop-motion children’s horror genre with a rebellious yet complicated approach, carving out a charming tale that can’t quite figure out how wild it wants to be. 

“Wendell & Wild” follows the punk-rock story of an orphaned Kat (Lyric Ross), who enters a nearly destitute elite Catholic girls school after a brief stint in juvenile detention. While juggling fitting into her new hostile environment, Kat discovers she’s a hell-maiden able to contact the underworld, thanks to a talking teddy bear and mysterious but friendly nun. Unfortunately hell talks back: Two demons, Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) & Wild (Jordan Peele), trick her into summoning them to earth with the promise that they’ll bring back her parents.

Kat marches through her story with wicked punk rage, making her stand with blazing resilience and a lovable rebel spirit. In one of the film’s most electric scenes, Kat quickly dismantles her school uniform, smooth stop-motion aiding the almost magical transformation as she dons towering boots, safety pins and black lipstick. Wielding her late father’s boombox in hand, Kat struts to class unbothered by her peers, ready in her own battle armor to take on the world, magical or otherwise. 

Afropunk fuels the film, featuring notable artists such as X-Ray Spex and TV on the Radio, charging every step Kat takes with eyes blazing, hell-raising grit. This booming soundtrack brings to life the film’s monotone aesthetic as the perfect topping to the typically gothic genre of stop-motion children’s horror. 

Tagging along with Kat’s adventures is sidekick Raul (Sam Zelaya), a young trans boy recently outcast from an intolerant clique and still working to find confidence in his small hometown. Raul is the portrait of a shy and relatable middle school creative, sneaking into the night to paint murals and finding his own place to shine in the dying town of Rust Bank. He emerges a quieter yet always hopeful character that audiences can’t help but love. 

The movie’s titular characters and demons Wendell and Wild, voiced by comedy legends Peele and Key, never fail to inject levity as the mischievous duo wreaks havoc on earth. Alongside Kat’s grit-filled story, the pair’s adventures with reviving hair cream, an apartment in their lord of the underworld dad’s nose and a revived priest makes for a gleefully ridiculous pairing to the main tale. 

Though fiends and nuns may seem to be the scariest “Wendell & Wild” has to offer, another antagonist looms over Kat’s small town, more terrifying than even the most harrowing Halloween tales. Instilled into the fur-wearing forms of the capitalist Klaxon family, the prison-industrial complex is the real villain of Kat’s story. The film ambitiously tackles critical social issues with its magical storyline, challenging the private prison industry as Kat also battles to keep her town out of the clutches of the Klaxon family. While leering devils and authority figures have always been the classic villains in the animated genre, the Klaxon family and their private prisons offer not only sinister visages, but a more thorough education in social issues that just pushes “Wendell & Wild” into the realm of iconic. 

While Kat’s story is electrifying, “Wendell & Wild” often finds itself bogged down by its many plot points. Stuffed with several high-energy ensemble characters, it becomes difficult for viewers to wade through the story’s many layers of wild characters and demons. The film never goes into much detail as to what specifically a “hell-maiden” is, nor orients its audience to the magical system Kat operates within. In this way, the film lacks the concrete sense of direction that is essential for any fantasy story.

At its bones, “Wendell & Wild” makes up for its slightly muddy plot with groundbreaking representation and its fresh take on the children’s horror stop-motion genre. While the film never totally gains its bearings, Kat’s punk-rock spirit and Rust Bank’s wild residents make for an entertaining watch that’s a must-see for any stop-motion animation fan.

Contact Addison Lee at 

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NOVEMBER 08, 2022