(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)
When you look at 2022, it has been a positively popping year for stop-motion animated features. Even if I didn’t personally enjoy every single one of them, 2022 has shown how diverse and different the medium of stop-motion can be. Oink, Mad God, The House, Marcel: The Shell With Shoes On, and the upcoming Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio. When was the last time we saw so much from this side of the medium? It’s rather depressing how poorly they have done in the past because people chose to see something else. Once again, if audience members want to see something different, unique, and in this case, made with stop-motion, then they actually, you know, need to see the films! Whether they show up in wide release, limited release, or on streaming, whatever hang-ups you have about where movies show up, you have to get over them. Seeing more of what you want means you need to actually support it when it comes out. That means that whether you saw it in its limited theatrical release or its soon-to-be home on Netflix, then you need to watch Wendell & Wild.
Directed by Henry Selick and co-written by Selick and Jordan Peele, this new stop-motion feature from the master himself tells the story of a teenager named Kat Elliot, voiced by Lyric Ross. After losing her family at a young age, she has been having one heck of a life that ends up with her going to a boarding school called RBC Girls which is run by a priest named Father Bests, voiced by James Hong. While this is all going on, two demon brothers are stuck making new haircare products for their father named Wendell and Wild, voiced by the iconic Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele. They one day find out that they are essentially connected by magic and blood with Kat and find a way to use her to get their plans set in motion. Can Kat reconcile the emotional baggage she has been carrying with her while saving the day and not letting her personal demons have their way with bringing something to fruition? However, Kat’s demons may not be the only monsters with whom she is going to deal.
One of the best elements in this film is how we see an entirely different set of character dynamics than in most animated fare, which is probably due to the fantastic writing combo of Selick and Jordan Peele. For one thing, the lead character doesn’t end up with a romance option with anyone. While there is debate about the whole romance or no romance option of lead characters going on right now due to comments made about the upcoming live-action Snow White remake, it is nice to see two of our leads just be good friends or accomplices to the antics without having to deal with ‘will they or won’t they’ story beats. The main goal of our lead Kat is to find a way to bring back her parents and deal with whatever is going on with the school she is living in. Our two demonic brothers bring in a distinct take of the magical entities that team up with a human story trope. They do trick her, and in the end, get redeemed not only in the eyes of Kat and their father, but they do act like demons. They lie and take advantage of Kat’s emotional luggage, they do things behind her back, and they are mischievous. You still care for them and are intensely entertaining characters, but they aren’t 100% good, which makes sense due to them being demons. Everyone from the adults to the other students all have layers to them that make this entire cast some of the more complex character lineups in 2022. Rarely does this film let any of the characters fall to the wayside and feel undercooked. With the exception maybe being the two friends of Siobhan’s friends Sweetie and Sloane, what they lack with multi-dimensional personalities, are picked up by characters like Sam Zelaya’s Raul, who is one of the most fun characters in animation this year. Seriously, there is so much personality shoved into this film, that there will be a chance that everyone watching this will result in rewinding or pausing to see all of the details or small character beats that you will definitely want to catch while on your second or third time through. It’s going to be a bit bumpy because it’s tackling themes of death, family connections, grief, loss, and how shady, powerful, and metaphorically demonic individuals take what sounds like hopeful ideas/ideals and use them for their own greed and desires ala what is going on with the school Kat attends. Sure, it can feel a bit stuffed at 105 minutes, and I agree to a certain degree that it was a lot to juggle, but the strong character dynamics and themes were keeping this animation fan glued to the screen during Animation is Film when it was on the big screen. Even stuff with the hair cream has symbolic meaning to the overarching story, and its details like that and how you can see Wendell and Wild have different facial animations while in hell and in the human world makes films like this special.
The animation, to no surprise, is amazing. Instead of tightly polishing the stop-motion elements as other studios would do, Henry Selick made sure to keep the imperfections that make stop-motion extremely special. It would be boring if they just edited out the different lines for the separate face pieces. Plus, like Anomalisa, you can take the little line you see on Father Bests’ face and spin it as a metaphorical mask he puts on for the students that hide his true intentions until he is around the others. Every character has either circular or angular designs that all have such punch and flair to them that is helped by the fact Selick hired a caricature artist to do the designs for this film. It results in some of the most distinct characters you see this year. As I referenced, Wendell and Wild themselves have what looks like two different facial movements when they are in different locations and little touches like that along with other small details like the janitor’s feet give you that Henry Selick punch that we all know and love. The voice cast is diverse, and they all play their respective roles well. Of course, you have the duo Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, but you also have Lyric Ross, Angela Bassett, James Hong, Ving Rhames, Sam Zelaya, Tamara Smart, Seema Virdi, Ramona Young, Michele Mariana, Natalie Martinez, Tantoo Cardinal, Igal Naor, Gary Gatewood, Gabrielle Dennis, David Harewood, and Maxine Peake that round up a satisfying cast of distinct characters. Bruno Coulais was the composer behind this film, and he brings all the quirky, scary, and macabre that you would want for what is essentially a horror comedy. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he also helped out with films like 2014’s Mune: Guardian of the Moon, Song of the Sea, 2018’s White Fang, and 2020’s Wolfwalkers, which makes all of the sense when you really think about his musical talents and sounds that he likes to deliver to the table. It pairs well with the amazing afropunk soundtrack that gives the horror a special rock edge.
Hollywood needs to stop beating around the bush and stop getting hung up on how much stop-motion animated features cost. The execs in the major studios sure as heck like spending money on massive tentpoles and pre-existing IPs that they are running into the ground when they don’t need to. Just cut a blank check to Henry Selick and let him make whatever films he wants. Wendell & Wild is a fantastic film, and it’s not just one of the best films in the medium of animation in 2022, but one of the best films in general of 2022. If you can, just find time to watch it when it hits Netflix, because I can absolutely see this becoming an instant classic in the world of film. Hopefully, a company like Criterion can put it out on a nice blu-ray with a ton of features. It’s amazing how fantastic 2022 has been in general with animation, especially with stop-motion showing how vibrant the medium is. Now then, next time, well, you are going to have to wait and see.