Wendell & Wild is a solid Halloween treat of a stop-motion family horror.
Published on January 12, 2023
Rating 3.5 /5
Wendell & Wild is a dream come true for horror fans who want the next Nightmare Before Christmas to share with their kids. Consider the ingredients. You have a stop-motion animated film directed by Henry Selick (the original director of Nightmare Before Christmas) with a script co-written by Jordan Peele (Nope, Us, Get Out) and produced by Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions. While this film may not reach the same notoriety or acclaim as Nightmare Before Christmas, it’s still a much-appreciated dose of playful spookiness for the wee ones.
It’s a tale fit for kids who have just started reading horror books. Kat Elliot is a punk-rock orphan who grew up bitter after her parents' death in a car crash. With her family’s root beer brewery a dream of the past, Kat becomes a juvenile delinquent who is given her last shot at an all-girl Catholic school. After arriving and being introduced to the annoying preppy girls, she discovers that she can sense premonitions. While she struggles to discover her paranormal powers, sinister forces are at play. The evil Klaxons are a wealthy family seeking to tear down the area and send children like Kat into their private prisons. By comparison, the titular demon duo of Wendell & Wild seem less evil. This is mainly because the bumbling demons are mismatched troublemakers who have dreams of making their amusement park behind the back of their towering father, Buffalo Belzer.
A lot is going on within this story that wants to explore so much. There are swirling themes of legacy, class divide, trauma, grief, greed, capitalist corruption, and the sinful nature of the private prison complex. All of this comes amid a plot of the undead rising and dark magic at play. Some of it works, and there’s a firm moral drive to this story that doesn’t feel like it’s talking down to kids. At the same time, there may be too much for kids to comprehend these poignant themes slathered upon animation and musical scenes featuring Fishbone and The Brat. Then again, perhaps it helps to dice up all these meaty topics to make them easy to digest. There are plenty of brilliant moments with these bits, as when one part of the plan concocted by the Klaxons involves raising old and dead council members to force a vote for building prisons.
In terms of animation, the film is suitable for audiences young and old. The stop-motion is uniquely crafted to inhabit several stylish moments of exaggeration. I dug how Wendel & Wild look like picture-book 2D characters come to life, which is why it wasn’t too much of a surprise that this picture was based on an unpublished novel. Kat’s punk style is neat for her big hair, tall legs, and determined expression. The demons and zombies also have a distinct look to make this film a style that goes beyond replicating the likes of Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline. Though Selick seems to dabble mostly in stop-motion horror, he has a remarkable ability to keep this genre feeling fresh with each entry. A lot of credit must be given to the stop-motion animators, considering the rather intricate action sequence of varied scale present within the thrilling finale.
Wendell & Wild is a solid Halloween treat of a stop-motion family horror. Despite the sloppy writing, there’s enough going on that will please any audience. So if you’re tired of constantly replaying The Addams Family and The Nightmare Before Christmas for the millionth time on Halloween, consider queuing up this creative, musical, and meaningful dose of animated horror that has more to offer than just silly spookiness.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.