A nice return for Henry Selick.
13 years after the release of “Coraline,” Henry Selick returns to stop-motion filmmaking with “Wendell & Wild,” which loves the comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele-A.K.A Key & Peele-so much, that his choice of demon brothers are caricatures of them. Peele also co-wrote and produced it, which also seems ideal, considering that he loves taking the horror genre to new heights.
But these two aren’t the only reasons why it seems like a happy marriage between Peele and Selick. There’s also a green-haired heroine named Kat Elliot (voiced by Lyric Ross), whose parents died in a car accident, and blames herself since she screamed at worms in her candy apple. She’s been in juvie and placed in a foster home, which is actually more sympathetic than the good and evil schools in “The School for Good and Evil.” She’s the one who’s least sympathetic towards the ones trying to be nice to her, but she has her reasons.
She seems like the character who would be in a Peele piece, because of how she dresses and how she finds herself in a dreary plot in which the town she lived in-Rust Bank-is now a ghost town, and how workers were killed in the brewery her parents owned. They could be murdered by a rich couple (one of them looking like a black Donald Trump), who wanted to buy the brewery so they can make way for a new prison.
Would kids understand that plot or another plot when Kat turns out to be a Hell Maiden? Not the little ones. Besides “Wendell & Wild” is rated PG-13, which is for older kids, teenagers, and adults. You know the ones who don’t judge animated films as kids cartoons.
As Selick specializes in his work (“The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach” being his best), there’s also a visual world so fascinating in various designs, either horrifying or strange or inventive if not horrifying. The title demons, Wendell (looking like and voiced by Key) and Wild (looking like and voiced by Peele) are actually prisoners in nose of their pop Buffalo Belzer (Ving Rhames), who runs a hellish amusement park on his belly, and orders them to plant hair gel on his head. They both decide to make their way to Earth to begin their own amusement park, because the hair gel brings the dead back to life, and thanks to its hallucinogenic tastes, they have a vision of the girl Kat.
She agrees to summon the demons to Earth, if they bring back her parents. But with the evil developers who have plans of their own, things get complicated.
Also with charming supporting voice work from James Hong (as the priest Father Bests), Angela Bassett (as the nun Sister Helley), and Sam Zelaya (as Kat’s new trans friend Raul), “Wendell & Wild” is based on an unpublished book by Selick and Clay McLeod Chapman, and allows us to look at this stop-motion in a poetic and charismatic way.
The mucus inside Buffalo Belzer’s nose looks more exhilarating than any snot I’ve seen in animation, especially since Wendell & Wild can make sculptures of themselves. The textures and purple colors of their skin make them look like demons with comical appeal. And the character Kat has the dispositions and attitudes of a girl poisoned by the loss of her parents and how she choices to dress and show off her green hair.
The story doesn’t leave much to the imagination, but there is enough visual appeal and humanity (if there is any) to live up to Selick’s expectations. And it’s also because of how much fun Key & Peele are and how Lyric Ross has a lot of depth and emotions to her character. It’s a low-key stop-motion film that should satisfy fans of this animation genre.
Now Playing in Select Theaters and Streaming on Netflix This Friday