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Henry Selick And Jordan Peele Team Up For The Ambitious ‘Wendell & Wild’ – TIFF 2022 Review

The master of stop-motion animation, Henry Selick, is back with the new film Wendell & Wild at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Based on a screenplay by Selick and Jordan Peele (who also served as a producer), the movie tells the story of Kat Elliot (Lyric Ross), a young girl who is brought to an all-girls boarding school after spending time in a juvenile detention centre. Rust Bank is the last place that Kat wants to be as it holds sad memories for her as it pertains to her family. 

Kat must deal with adjusting to these new yet old surroundings (which is never easy), and it’s made even more difficult and strange when a pair of demon brothers (Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) send Kat’s life for a loop.

Kat in Wendell & Wild
(Courtesy of Netflix © 2022)

The best thing about Wendell & Wild is the stop-motion animation. Of course, with Selick involved, there was never any doubt about that. Seeing Selick’s work back in action alongside cinematographer Peter Sorg was amazing. The attention to detail in Wendell & Wild is sublime, with interesting character designs and otherworldliness to every setting that’s a part of the tale. From the movement on the faces of each character, when their expression changes to the scenery built and changed to reflect different moods within the story, everything was on point. With any kind of animation, this can be a daunting task, but in Wendell & Wild, it seems effortless. For anyone who loves animation, especially stop-motion, this is certainly a movie you must see.

In addition to the impeccable animation, the voice cast is out of this world, and every single actor does an excellent job in their respective roles. Ross voices Kat so well that it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. The gamut of emotions that Kat goes through within the film requires an actor who can easily switch between them, and Ross gave viewers exactly that. Ross expertly ebbs and flows with whatever Kat is dealing with on-screen, and it’s a joy to see when watching the movie. My only issue is that, at times, Kat seems to be overshadowed in ways by the pair of demon brothers voiced by Key and Peele. This is not to say that Kat doesn’t get her time to shine as the main character, but it would have been nice to have some moments without the pair of demons so close at hand.

That said, Key and Peele are hilarious (as per usual) in their respective roles as Wendell and Wild. It was great to hear the duo back in action with their witty banter and moments that will have you laughing out loud. There’s no stopping the chemistry the pair have; it was great to relive it for this film. As said above, it sometimes comes at the detriment of Kat and made me wonder what the film would be like if the two brothers were the only lead characters. It would have been a vastly different film, for sure. However, I wouldn’t have been left thinking the pair were eating up some of Kat’s screen time and character development.

(Courtesy of Netflix © 2022)

That wasn’t my only criticism of the film. Wendell & Wild is very character-driven, which is a bonus, but its commentary on the prison industrial complex doesn’t always land. Sure, perhaps I would give it an A for effort in that department. However, such a heavy topic deserves much more than just an A for effort. Oftentimes, it seemed like there were too many cooks in the kitchen, and not all of the thematic elements in the film blended together seamlessly.

All in all, Wendell & Wild is a bit of a mixed bag, but the stop-motion animation is worthy of a watch – even if the story could have improved with a few more tweaks here and there or had they wholeheartedly attempted to tackle the commentary on the prison industrial complex in a stronger way.

Rating: 6.5/10

Wendell & Wild premiered at TIFF on Sunday, September 11 and will release on Netflix on October 28.

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