Wendell & Wild (2022)

Director: Henry Selick

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Certification: 12

Starring: Lyric Ross, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Angela Bassett, James Hong, David Harewood, Maxine Peake, Sam Zelaya, Tamara Smart, Seema Virdi, Ramona Young, Ving Rhames, Michele Mariana

Since Laika released the exceptional fable Coraline in 2009, director Henry Selick has faced issues with his projects stalling. The stop-motion extraordinaire has finally returned to make another film, this time focusing on scheming demon brothers Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele). Intent on reaching the land of the living, they enlist the help of guilt-ridden teen Kat (Lyric Ross) to summon them.

Ever since a car accident took her parents, Kat has been on a self-destructive cycle which left her putting others at a distance to prevent them being hurt. Returning to the town of Rust Bank which her parents desperately loved, she's enrolled at a fancy girls school which promises a fresh start, although is shocked to see how dilapidated the town has become. Ross wonderfully captures the characters struggles, as she grapples with grief to gain some control over her life, accepting that she can continue where her parents left off.

Aiding her are Sister Helley (Angela Bassett), a mentor figure at the school, and Raul (Sam Zelaya), a friendly boy with artistic ambitions who rises above being deadnamed and misgendered. Welcoming Kat into the school are a trio of girls and their pet goat, roles which could've made up the usual mean-girl archetypes, yet are delivered with much more depth here.

In the titular roles, Key and Peele are wonderful sources of humour. The demon brothers wish to leave the life they're trapped in and live out their dreams through whatever methods they can, although their attempts to get their way through menace leaves them cut down to size. The Klaxons are more effective antagonists, as this dangerous couple and their business ideals will have horrific effects on Rust Belt. The real-world parallels are clear, right down to the father's character design, further highlighting the need to break a rotten cycle.

From the opening scene, what's clear is how gorgeously realized this story is. Selick's unrestrained imagination is phenomenally captured, as the beautiful stop-motion animation brings alive the screenplay's grand ambitions. Screenwriters Selick and Peele deliver a tale about the prison complex system in ways appropriate for families, without the need to talk down key points. Despite such aspirations, it sits within a busy film where many plots fight for screentime. As the demon Belzer (Ving Rhames) chases after his sons, that arc feels too condensed which leaves the emotional ending lacking the impact it deserves. Despite this, Selick's latest is another exceptional entry into stop-motion cinema.

Wendell & Wild is available on Netflix from October 28th