Review: Wendell and Wild

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Title: Wendell and Wild
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Henry Selick
Starring: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Lyric Ross, Angela Bassett
Runtime: 1 hr 45 mins

What It Is: 13-year-old Kat Elliot (Ross) is a rebellious and troubled teen orphan with a cold outlook on life following the tragic death of her parents. Kat is moved back to her hometown, the place of her parents’ demise, to stay at a Catholic girls’ boarding school as a part of her rehabilitation. Wendell (Key) and Wild (Peele) are two mischievous demon brothers who assist in menial tasks taking care of their father Buffalo Belzer (Ving Rhames), a huge demon who takes charge and pleasure in the torment of souls in his hellish carnival. The two brothers yearn to create a carnival of their own and escape into the living world. Upon getting a vision of Kat as a Hellmaiden after eating some of their fathers’ dark-magic hair cream, the two make a deal with her–conduct a ritual to summon the demons into the living world, and they can bring her parents back to life. Subsequently, it seems–all Hell breaks loose.

What We Think: It’s tougher and tougher to see kids’ movies these days. Seeing that I don’t have any children, I have to reach down deep inside my cold dead heart and summon my own inner kid every now and again. Wendell and Wild does just the trick. Reigning in legend stop-motion-director Selick (Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas) and storytelling maverick Jordan Peele on the script, this movie was a shoe-in for a silly, sweet, spooky ride. The appeal is perfectly distributed as I can see this being the perfect movie for any and all types of kids. Honestly, I was surprised looking back at the MPAA rating as PG-13, as it’s no scarier or more adult than something like Kubo and the Two StringsI honestly can’t think of why it wouldn’t just be PG, other than some kooky fantastical violence that I can’t really see affecting kids, but, whatever.

It serves plenty of laughs and chuckles, not surprising considering its comedic-genius leads. It also had some fantastic incorporation of real-world issues, including how abusive and greedy the American justice system is, and how and why we can get sucked into it. The character Kat with her strong, decisive, punk personality is refreshing, but also a fantastic representation of a good person who carries a lot of heartache and guilt with them, and lashes out at others and herself as a result. Watching her journey is a reminder of the importance of self-love, especially in the face of something as intimidating and authoritative as systematic abuse and corporate evil.

A few critiques or noteworthy things that I feel could have been improved where certain aspects of the story and design. Certain characters seemed to be missing out on emotional characterization, appearing only for moments or minutes and coming off as more gratingly one-note than in any way productive or likability to the story, making me wonder why they would be included at all, though a lot of the characters seemed to be missing this one way or another. The designs could be a little charicature-esque, whether a little too wacky or off-putting in a way that made some of the puppets look straight-up weird to look at, as if they were rushed or unfinished. If that seems nit-picky, then whatever, but I would have also liked to have seen fuller writing and dialogue for all of the characters rather than just the ones with most of the focus on them. It causes me to wonder if certain things where cut to serve a shorter runtime and benefit the budget, but then I look back on stop-motion movies that I felt succeeded in providing memorable designs and dialogue for all of its characters, such as Paranorman, Coraline, Corpse Bride, and Chicken Run–all films with a shorter duration. In this case, I would have liked to have seen more original story and character conventions overall, but spite of its few shortcomings, I would still wholeheartedly recommend this visually charismatic and beautifully intentioned movie for everyone, a comfort-watch to be sure.

 Our Grade: B+, A funny and fun-spirited spooky tale with beautifully conveyed life lessons for us all to meditate on, Wendell and Wild is the perfect watch (and rewatch) for all those who long for well-told animated stories, and for those who have yet to see them. I could see this being a really important formative flick for young’uns, while being just as enjoyable for those of any age.

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