Hooptober 9.0 – Wendell & Wild (2022)

Being Film #31 for Hooptober 2022

And so at last we come to the end of Hooptober 2022, at least for me. 31 and done. I’ve watched more films, and more horror (currently relishing every delicious moment of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities), but I’m also relishing simply watching without thinking about what to say about it, you know? It happens every year. So once more into the breach, to talk about Henry Selick’s long awaited return with the Jordan Peele co-written and co-starring (along with Keegan Michael Key) Wendell & Wild. I’m a sucker for stop-motion animation, and I love all of Peele’s films, so it burns me a little to say that Wendell & Wild is perfectly fine if a little underwhelming. Visually sumptuous but overwritten and over-plotted leaving little room for some true character growth. But damn that soundtrack…

THE QUICK SUMMARY: After tragically losing her parents and being shipped about to different facilities, at last Kat Elliot has returned to her hometown of Rust Bank to attend an all-girls school as part of a juvenile rehabilitation program. Seems the whole town needs rehabilitating…it’s ripped for a gentrification takeover by the Klaxon Korp, one “K” short of their intent to raze the town and build a for-profit prison system. Dizzy yet? Well, mixed into this are a pair of demons stuck under the thumb of their father, the chief demon who entertains the souls of the damned. All Wendell and Wild want to do is build their own Dream Faire! And when they find out that young Kat is a Hell Maiden who can call up the demons, they make her a bargain she can’t refuse: bring them up and help them realize their dreams and they bring her parents back to life. Before you know animated corpses are rising everywhere, the town’s in trouble, and only Kat and her school friends can put everything right…or can they?

Trying to quickly summarize Wendell & Wild speaks to how convoluted the story is. Peele is fantastic with injecting multiple layers into his scripts, and there’s a lot he and Selick are trying to get across here, whether its representation, the evils of the for privy systems and capitalism in general, the way we deal with loss, even gender identity is explored. But it’s just too much to have all of that AND a story about a pair of demons, a bargain with a Hell Maiden, and a mythology of how death works all in an hour and 45 minutes. It gets in the way of us getting to know the characters, and that’s a shame, because there’s a ton of great side characters: I would love a series that focused on Raúl and the trio of Siobhan, Sloane, and Sweetie. Or the earlier adventures of Sister Helly and Manberg. Instead we have to race through everything just to get the plot where it needs to go.

That being said, this movie is gorgeous to look at. Selick and his team haven’t lost their edge at all, and some of the creations here rank as the finest he’s ever constructed. Kat is immediately a visual feast and an unforgettable heroine the second she builds her own school uniform and steps out with her boombox. And Wendell and Wild look so much like Key and Peele it’s a wicked delight to watch them interact in animated form.

All that and an absolute KILLER soundtrack. When you put on Fishbone not even 2 minutes into your film (and have two of your characters wear that classic t-shirt) you have my curiosity. When you follow that up with a bevy of X-Ray Spex and have that be your lead’s signature band? You have my attention. Put it all together and Wendell & Wild is a fine film.

I just wish it had a little room to breathe.

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