Henry Selick doesn’t get to make a lot of movies, and that’s mostly because the stop-motion medium is very time-consuming. In his latest independent work, Wendell and Wild is perhaps his darkest work to date. It concerns themes concerning how to deal with life after the death of loved ones, and making pacts with the devil. In this film’s case, it’s about two demons. They get top billing in the posters than the actual heroine, Kat (Lyric Ross).
She has to face her fears. This teen blames herself for causing the car accident which resulted in the loss of her parents a long time ago. To come to terms with what actually happened is tough, and that’s enough to get Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele, who also helped co-write) to take notice. These two creatures from the nether realm want to run away, but to go somewhere where their father can’t find them means getting help from the mortal world. And the only way they can is with a Hellmaiden. When they learn Kat is next in line, they haunt her dreams in no time and offer her a chance to see her parents again.
Of course, it comes at a price, and in true Edgar Allen Poe fashion, what she wants isn’t exactly 100% fulfilled. She’ll have to deal with the ramifications. Her teenage life isn’t great when Sister Helley (Angela Bassett) is that bitter old lady running the orphanage. Furthermore, Father Bests (James Hong) is being courted by some businessman who wants to turn the city block into a prison.
The three narratives don’t always gel as the screenplay teeters between them, and we’re not certain which is more important. Eventually, they all lead down the same path, where we find each character is courting some demon. It’s fun to watch these entities manipulate the mortal realm, and as the title characters, Key and Peele are having fun with the roles. They remind me of Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles from Studio Laika‘s The Boxtrolls.
But whether they are truly angels rather than demons depends on how they’re viewed. They have their own agenda for wanting to leave home. Kat has no true home until they come along to help awaken her parents so that all that grief counselling can be observed. Thankfully, she learns about what’s right and wrong, and we even get to sympathise for the demons. Their abuse is similar to Kat’s when living in the orphanage. As for all the side stories going on, it reaches a satisfactory conclusion where we can finally cheer.
While Wendell and Wild is not the most easily understood film right away, I did find it on par with Selick’s debut work, Coraline, when studying why families matter. Despite all the trials and tribulations, what the lead learns is that there is no place like home down the golden brick road.
4 Stars out of 5