The ominous ambiance of Halloween and the crisp fall chill in the air create the perfect atmosphere for director Henry Selick’s new Netflix movie, “Wendell and Wild.” This unusual film was released on Netflix this past Friday, Oct. 21, and is the perfect movie to pair with some leftover Halloween candy and a brisk fall night.
The film stars Lyric Ross as Kat Elliot, the jaded protagonist who is forced into her adventure, Sam Zelaya as her best friend Raúl and Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as the comedic and sly demon brothers for whom the film is named. Adapted from Selick’s original idea into a screenplay alongside Peele, who also helped produce the movie, this film plays with impossibly eccentric plots muddled with social issues in Kat’s hometown. The story follows Kat as she makes a deal with demon brothers who need her in order to escape the underworld, unknowingly releasing a power that could help a mega-rich couple in turning her town into a private prison complex. Wendell and Wild speak on both the supernatural and some frightening realities.
One of the most unique and interesting aspects of this movie is the art and animation style, which draws the viewer in and holds onto them with every disjointed step of the characters. This whirlwind of whimsy and frightening adventures is reminiscent of the director’s earlier works, including “Coraline” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” artfully utilizing claymation and stop motion animation to bring the dead back to life. From Ray Harryhausen to Tim Burton, claymation has been used to create life within inanimate objects and bring the dead into the world of the living, bringing an imagining of the uncanny movements of the dead into reality.
The animation in this film is certainly on par with other great animators. Selick is known for his eclectic method of creating a piece of art to accompany the plot of his even more eclectic plots. His talents for fabricating expression and intense emotion within clay characters are clear in “Wendell and Wild,” with every character revealing some inner personality right at the beginning just based on their facial expressions. His use of lighting and colors to set the mood creates such an interesting movie to watch simply based on its presentation, let alone its chaotic and all-engulfing plot.
Selick did not just stop at creating an artistic ode to claymation and the playful spookiness of classic Halloween movies with “Wendell and Wild.” While the obvious villain in this Beetlejuice-esque movie may be the demons who have taken advantage of a young girl in order to escape their eternity in the underworld, the real antagonists, a mega-rich corporate couple who want to turn the town into a private prison complex for their own financial gain, reveal themselves to the viewer early on. Although less intensely terrifying than Peele’s previous movies, “Wendell and Wild” certainly combines social issues like those presented in movies like “Get Out” with the more whimsical and artistic sensibilities of Selick’s previous movies. It comments on the very real and terrifying historical institutions that support oppression and socioeconomic disparity in a super interesting way.
This movie is both an entertaining piece of art and a commentary on corporations and the private prison system, leaving viewers with some hearty laughs, a few jump-scares and an understanding of some frightening aspects of the real world. It is artful and beautiful to watch, but the creative animation certainly does not distract from the critique of private prisons in the United States and the ways in which capitalism can be a motivation to imprison people and destroy entire towns for personal gain. There are certainly some plot points that the movie may have done without, as with so many stories going on at once there was not always one clear mission. There is some loss of character development for the supporting roles in this movie because there is just too much going on to really focus on getting to know the characters. Despite its slightly convoluted nature, however, “Wendell and Wild” communicates its message about socioeconomic issues and the problem with private prisons quite well, tying the grand plot up in a purple and green spiky bow.
Overall, “Wendell and Wild” is original, offbeat and a great time to watch. Whether you are looking for something with a bit of playful anarchy and interesting characters or trying to watch a movie that will make you think about the world as we know it, this is a great pick. In under two hours, it perfectly combines the aim of a movie to entertain with critiques of social, political and economic institutions, making the viewer think about more than just a one-dimensional plotline. It is revealing, hard-hitting, interesting to watch and is the perfect movie to settle in with on a bitingly cold Binghamton night.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars