“Wendell & Wild” Review

Jordan Peele joins forces with the director of “Coraline” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to sculpt a creepy and complex new world.


Wendell & Wild Netflix Promotional Poster

Khadijah Rashid, Staff Writer

Director Henry Selick’s first film since the release of “Coraline” 13 years ago features another angsty, young protagonist who just needs the healing touch of a family but gets mixed up in dark magic along the way. The stars of “Key & Peele” bring brotherly banter into a sinister stop-motion landscape, combining comedy and creepiness to create the world of “Wendell & Wild.”

Years after the death of her parents, Kat, a troubled teenager, is sent back to her hometown for a chance to turn her life around by attending a prestigious school for girls. Dodging the affections of a trio of fellow students, Kat slowly befriends her classmate Raúl, whose mother is an attorney fighting to keep a private prison from being built in their town. Meanwhile in the underworld, Kat is two demon brothers’ only chance at making it to the land of the living to build their own hellish amusement park for “danged souls” against their father’s wishes.

Kat’s attendance at her new school is sponsored by a program called “Break the Cycle,” promoted as a chance for at-risk juveniles to turn their lives around. Kat, however, eventually comes to question the true motives of the parties involved in the program. She also grows suspicious of Klax Korp, the group who’ve been proposing the construction of a private prison for years and have now bought most of the decrepit property remaining in Kat’s once bustling hometown.

The film’s handmade settings are immersive and distinctive in style. There’s no lack of purples, grays, and eerie lighting that give the world a strong personality. The creators also lean into unsightly, body-based visuals like an up-close look at a demon’s scalp or the inside of his nostrils, among other details that some viewers might find disturbing. “Wendell & Wild” is more mature than Selick’s previous works. The film earns its PG-13 rating, with writer Jordan Peele’s intense adult perspective shining through as it mixes with Selick’s whimsy and wonder.

“Wendell and Wild” also brings a racially diverse cast into the world of mainstream stop motion that is otherwise almost completely white. The recognizable voices of Father Bests (James Hong), Sister Helley (Angela Bassett) and, of course, Wendell (Keegan Michael-Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele) accompany an impressive cast that includes actors of Hispanic, South Asian and North American indigenous descent. Each actor’s on-screen puppet counterpart flaunts racially distinguishable features that prove no animation style is incapable of diversity. 

Also noteworthy is the film’s use of music. Choral tracks that are reminiscent of “Coraline” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” create an ominous ambience while punk rock tracks help build the characters of Kat and Raúl, adding a youthful and contemporary touch.

The film’s story, however, is a bit scattered. It features multiple different plotlines involving separate groups of characters that tie together late in the film. Some conflicts are wrapped up in a rushed way that leaves something to be desired. While the story was admirably complex, it could have benefited from being more focused.

Bold, entrancing and sometimes downright gross, the film is a tale about the importance of family and facing the past as well as a searing criticism of the prison-industrial complex. “Wendell & Wild,” like a lot of Peele’s work, might require some contemplation and a second or third watch to fully sink in, but it’s worthwhile for viewers craving dreamy stop motion and a creepy and immersive fall watch.