Wendell and Wild was well-wended but a bit too wild…
The cast is quite stacked, including Ramona Young who I knew from Never Have I Ever, and Key and Peele (who I quite comically didn’t realize was Jordan Peele as well, until writing this review). Father Bests, the head of Kat’s all-girls Catholic school, is voiced by James Hong, whose voice is recognizable as Mr. Ping, Po’s adoptive father from Kung Fu Panda. But Father Bests’ familiarity still poked at me. I finally scratched the itch when I realized he looks familiar too: he resembles RBG but if she was a dude and a vampire (Father Bests isn’t actually a vampire, just looks like one).
There’s also quite a noticeable bit of diversity and representation within the cast and characters. The students within Rust Bank Catholic are all people of color. In this world, while race doesn’t seem to explicitly reflect our society’s real relationship with racial tensions and injustice (unless the town council members were presumably white (though we can’t tell in their skeletal forms)), the film points out microaggressions towards the trans community, as seen through Kat’s friend, Raul’s experience.
Among the film’s great elements are its music, of which my favorite was “Ghost Town” by the Specials. Listen to the official soundtrack here: https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/wendell-wild-official-playlist/pl.6c5f7051b6794938a42a8258a486243f
The animation is also above par. During a set visit from Screen Rant, Henry Selick said, “It’s not all lubricated imagery, perfectly done, that’s just like every other Hollywood CG film.” Yet this somehow makes the animation feel crisp and meticulous, a step even higher than the high-quality claymation of Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas. I first noticed this during a shot of ice sloshing under the wheel of a car transporting Kat from prison to her new school. The sound along with the depth / detail of the crunching ice was extremely satisfying.
The detail put into the visuals and worldbuilding of Rust Bank was also highly appreciated. From the snowy setting to the hellish creatures, to the wardrobe. The fits felt familiar — from the pooling nuns robes to the schoolgirl skirts and blazers with safety pins cutting through them — yet held an edge. Kat’s fashion is very in right now, though a friend pointed out that her vamped-up, rebellious school uniform felt unrealistic and erroneous of punk culture couture, much of which came out of d.i.y.ing the stuff of second hand stores and rummage sales.
I guess what felt off about the movie was its rating. As a PG-13 stop-animation film on Netflix, just from looking at the cover and synopsis, it presents as a spooky movie for kids. Upon finishing the film, it still seemed like it was meant to be a children’s movie (maybe more for tweens), because of the lack of curse words or other PG-13 things. It felt like the movie had been planned and made that way, but the rating was hiked up last minute because of the dark comedy and subject matter (demons). Maybe the demon brothers Wendell and Wild getting high off of their dad’s hair cream, the juvenile justice system, death, and Kat’s parents’ business that got burnt down (a brewery) also took part in the heightened rating.
A few elements of the script and plot resolution also felt a bit too easy. Kat getting a hold of her power after “owning her memories” and saying to her monster, “I’m in control of my life now, not you,” felt a little cheesy and too forward. The ending – family reconciled, Klax Korp finished, whooo victory! – is packaged up a little too nicely, especially because of the film’s multiple threads. The story opens up too many conflicts in the first half, but couldn’t tie up those loose ends within the 1 hour and 45 minutes, without tackling them in a way that felt forced. Maybe demons and the prison industrial context were a little too much to handle. Jordan Peele’s storyline and dialogue are usually his strong suit, so this felt a little disappointing. I had very high hopes because of the household names, and felt like all of the anticipation wasn’t lived up to. As my friend said, “Maybe he’s better with real people.”
But overall, Wendell and Wild was a cool film to watch, especially on Halloween weekend. Just wouldn’t watch twice.