By: Amanda Guarragi
Watching someone you love pass away is always difficult, and when you’re able to fully process the grief, you notice little things. Moments like that find a way of creeping up on you when you least expect it. It’s like your mind registers these images without you realizing it. The themes in Wendell and Wild explore a young girl’s friend after losing her parents at a young age. We see the young woman she has grown into because of her past trauma. Kat (Lyric Ross) still has trouble moving forward because her past haunts her. In this film, two devious demon brothers Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele) have to face their arch-enemy. Sister Helley (Angela Bassett) is notorious for expelling demons and she ends up helping them. However, the brothers are not plagued by her but also her altar boys.
The film is directed by Henry Selick and co-written by Jordan Peele. The theme of grief carries that emotional weight and is powerfully explored through the stop-motion animation. However, the direction of the story is a bit messy. The film’s pacing felt rushed because the character introductions were cut short and not explained. At some points, the story with Kat is placed on the back burner because of the other storylines being explored. There is a connection with the underworld to Wendell and Wild that is also a weak link to Kat because they use her to bring them back to the Land of the Living. Anything is possible through animation, so her theoretical demons manifest into physical beings for her to see. Unfortunately, Kat blames herself for her parent’s death and carries this with her. She goes to a new boarding school and discovers that she has different powers that link her to the underworld.
Three different stories are being told; it could have worked if they had been layered differently. Each new piece of information is being thrown into the mix for it to hold more of a personal tie to Kat. There are monsters that we carry, monsters that we don’t believe in, and monsters that manifest themselves in other people. Selick and Peele also try to address big corporate monsters who do not care about the little people which completely gets lost in this story. Kat is a different character, as her punk-rock look and detached demeanour somehow carry this movie. Not only is she a young teenager looking to find herself, but she is also a “Hellmaiden” with a direct link to the underworld. It is also a parallel to her being able to search deep within herself to expel the darkness from her mind to live free of her past.
Wendell and Wild has strong themes of grief and guilt that come through in the stunning animation. Kat’s feelings are manifested in Wendell and Wild, but they’re never fully explored. It’s almost as if her storyline is cut short because of situations at the school, in the underworld, and in the corporate business. We only get to know the character through her trauma and not as a young girl trying to process it fully. There could have been strong emotional moments for her, but the weight of her grief is tossed away through her anger. She does care but it’s executed poorly throughout the film. It’s as if the story wasn’t there to service the lead character and her monsters. They wanted to show how monsters manifest in other ways through her grief, and that’s why this didn’t come together as it should have.