(2022) (voices of Lyric Ross, Jordan Peele) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Stop-Motion Animated Comedy/Horror: A troubled young teen hopes that two demons can resurrect her dead parents.
Kat Elliot (voice of LYRIC ROSS) is a 13-year-old girl whose world was upended five years ago when a single-vehicle accident claimed the lives of her parents, Wilma (voice of GABRIELLE DENNIS) and Delroy (voice of GARY GATEWOOD). Feeling responsible for that, she ended up becoming a juvenile delinquent and is now getting maybe one last shot at redemption back in her old hometown.
While Rust Bank was once a thriving place, it's now a dilapidated shell of its former self back when Kat's parents ran the local brewery that mysteriously burned down after their tragic deaths. Now, a private prison company known as Klax Korp -- run by Irmgard (voice of MAXINE PEAKE) and Lane Klaxon (voice of DAVID HARDWOOD) -- wants to tear the town down and replace it with a prison, thus potentially threatening the closure of the local Catholic school run by Father Bests (voice of JAMES HONG) where Kat is now enrolled.
There, a trio of girls -- Siobhan (voice of TAMARA SMART), Sweetie (voice of RAMONA YOUNG), and Sloane (voice of SEEMA VIRDI) -- want to add Kat to their clique, but she doesn't want any friends, although she at least tolerates Raul (voice of SAM ZELAYA) who she views as something of a kindred spirit. Little does Kat know, though, is that she's a so-called "Hell maiden" who's been targeted by demons Wendell (voice of KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY) & Wild (voice of JORDAN PEELE) who are hair farmers for underworld leader Buffalo Belzer (voice of VING RHAMES).
The demons desire to open a fair up in the world of the living, and knowing that Kat is the only person who can summon them, they agree to resurrect her parents if she agrees to do so. At the same time, Sister Helley (voice of ANGELA BASSETT) -- who knows a thing or two about demons, what with similarly being a Hell maiden who's helped school janitor Manberg (voice of IGAL NAOR) add demons to his growing collection -- tries to help Kat deal with that and come to terms with her past and related guilt.
- OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Demons of various kinds have long populated the world of movies. The most obvious, of course, is the type that likely immediately comes to mind when you mention them. You know, the kind that populates and fuels the stories behind "The Exorcist," "The Shining" and a plethora of other similar horror movies where otherworldly figures take over or, at minimum, terrorize the protagonists.
Then there are those that feature substance and behavioral forces that similarly work to ruin the lives of the main characters. Booze, drugs, gambling, and so on threaten to derail the goals of those subjected to them, and biopics about famous but troubled artists are the mainstays for such evil entities. As is oft the case, such self-destructive behavior often stems from childhood personal demons that act as tripwires ready to be activated later in life.
Various sorts of demons populate "Wendell & Wild," the latest stop-motion animated offering -- after a long absence -- by filmmaker Henry Selick, best known for the likes of "Coraline" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Like those offerings, this one -- written by him and Jordan Peele -- is teaming with a macabre aura that permeates the storyline and the characters that appear in it.
For 13-year-old Kat (voiced by Lyric Ross), her personal demon is that of feelings of guilt that she was responsible for the single-vehicle car accident that claimed the lives of her parents five years earlier. Since then, she's bounced around from foster home to detention center, and she shows up in shackles at one of Rust Bank's few remaining institutions, the local Catholic church.
Hardened, rebellious, and anti-social, she wants no part of the girl clique there, or the outcast member, Raul (Sam Zelaya), who used to be part of that before transitioning over to the other side. Similarly, she shows no respect to Father Bests (James Wong) or the head nun, Sister Helley (Angela Bassett), and thus her childhood personal demons have turned her into a young adolescent demon, a.k.a., a juvenile delinquent.
But more demons are waiting in the wings, namely those of our title characters (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele who are reunited from their old TV skit show days). They're hair farmers for the ruler of the underworld, Buffalo Belzer (Ving Rhames), but long for getting out and into the world of the living so that they can open their very own fair. But they need a so-called "Hell maiden" to summon them up, and Kat fits the bill, what with having forged a connection to the world of the dead by nearly drowning like her parents on that fateful night years earlier.
Thus, they find her in a dream, give her all the necessary details, and agree to resurrect her dead parents (without knowing how, at least yet) in exchange for her going all Price is Right and telling them to "come on down" (or "up" in this case). They do, and upon learning that the hair cream they use for regrowing follicles also reanimates the dead, they figure they're in business.
Speaking of the latter, a subplot -- that ultimately doesn't do much for the story, in my opinion -- revolves around one of those Catholic schoolgirls' parents (Maxine Peake and David Hardwood) who run a private prison company and are jonesing for tearing down the nearly deserted and certainly dilapidated town so that they can build another of their profitable penal institutions. The only issue is they don't have the required votes to make that a reality. That is, unless some dead former council members might just so happen to miraculously show up.
The result is a somewhat sprawling and unwieldy but definitely never boring offering that's somewhat difficult to pin down as just one type of movie. Part of it's plain goofy, others are weird and macabre, and some is touching as the various types of demons come, go, and collide with one another.
The characters and the animation that brings them alive are wonderfully weird and colorful, and the vocal work is terrific. It's certainly the sort of flick -- like its predecessors -- that could leave indelible impressions on the minds of younger viewers, simultaneously entertaining and unsettling them.
You know, like a little cinematic demon that will stick around in their psyche for some time. With some tightening and possible jettisoning of some material, this could have been a masterpiece about dealing and battling with childhood personal demons (along with others). As it stands, "Wendell & Wild" is just good, but enough so that it rates as a 6 out of 10.
Posted October 28, 2022
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