Wendell & Wild is an animation lover’s dream, but wading through this muddled, confusing story from Jordan Peele and Henry Selick is not worth enduring.
Wendell & Wild from its concept should excite audiences. An animation that was written by Get Out‘s Jordan Peele, directed by The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ Henry Selick, and starring Peele himself and comedy-partner Keegan-Michael Key, it really is too good to be true.
That was clearly enough to get Netflix onboard for this Laika-inspired animation, yet unfortunately, its story is to be desired.
Kat (Lyric Ross), our green Afro-haired protagonist, firstly loses her parents in a car accident, causing her to take a negative cynical view of the world, and its systems for children in care, however, after joining a nunnery-led school in the same now-abandoned town her parents died, discovers that she is the next chosen Hell Maiden after being marked by a possessed teddy bear.
The true purpose of what a Hell Maiden is, why they exist, how they choose their next Maiden, or what they do is never fully explored, but instead, our Hell Maiden is fooled by two demons to summon them into the world of the living. The two demons: Wendell & Wild.
With the film named after them, and the voice acting duo being the reason for the film to exist, one would expect more time to be spent on the demons Wendell & Wild, as if the film is their story. We do get glimmers of this with the demon brothers revealed to be Satan’s sons, who dream of nothing more than building their own fairground, yet are imprisoned to apply hair cream every day on their father’s head.
Unfortunately, instead, it opts for raising a commentary on the exploitation of black communities in prisons, with detention centres in the United States being twisted and manipulated into a profiteering system, rather than one to rehabilitate.
Conceptually there are too many ideas floating around this hellish decimation of stop-motion animation for it to work.
The film should have tackled one theme, and executed it with strength, rather than muddle through and try to present parental loss, racial discrimination, identity, prison injustices and the Catholic understanding of the afterlife as all get jumbled and muddled with the nonsensical plot of the same hair cream being used to raise the dead for political gain.
There should have been no issue in making Wendell & Wild a delight.
A strong visual decision in its animation, a great leading comedy duo in Key & Peele, and a filmmaker pairing that have both established themselves over the years as strong scary filmmakers with Selick responsible for the adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline as well as Peele’s Get Out, Nope, and Us.
What is delivered instead is a poorly executed jumbled disgrace, that feels as though thrown off a cliff and is scrambling to pull at any thematic or narrative idea it can to form a cohesive watchable film in the hopes of pulling itself back over the edge into safety.
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