Wendell and savage sees director Henry Selick’s return to stop-motion animation after a 13-year absence. His previous films include classics like The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Coralina. He also directed the stop-motion/live action hybrid monkey-bone but the less said about this one, the better. The basic premise of Wendell and savage follows two scheming demon brothers Wendell & Wild (Peele and Key) who enlist the help of 13-year-old Kat (Ross) to help them summon them to the land of the living, while there are also several subplots related to the main story involving several other characters.
Wendell and savage is a solid return to the stop-motion animation genre for Selick even if it doesn’t reach the same heights as his other work. The biggest problem with the film is surprisingly its overloaded and messy story. There’s just too much going on and it feels very uneven as a whole because of it. There are so many different subplots and characters that unfortunately take away from the central storyline involving Kat, which is by far the strongest and most invested storyline in the film. The way a lot of the stories end in the final act feels a bit rushed as Kat seems to be pushed aside as the film progresses. It’s odd that it’s kind of a mess given that the script was written by both Selick and Peele, but it never really strikes a balance as smoothly as it should.
While the story might be a little underwhelming, the visuals and stop-motion animation more than make up for it. The animation and attention to detail in every frame is stunning, and it proves that Selick has lost none of his wondrous imagination when it comes to world-building. The world seems so unique and a lot of the ideas at play here are extremely creative. It’s a shame that this film is so full of intrigue, because it would have been a treat to be able to spend more time in this world and learn a little more about how it works. It also has a strong central message and a nice amount of heart which was a nice surprise.
A big part of what makes the film work is its talented voice cast and the quirky characters they all portray. Key and Peele as the titular duo are the standouts by far and even though they’re just voices, they still share such an entertaining and energetic chemistry together. Both do powerful voice work, as does Ross who makes Kat a very likable and unique protagonist to follow. James Hong is also excellent here as Father Bests and is arguably one of the best voice actors working today. There wasn’t a single weak link in the cast, and it was especially fun to hear the voices of Ving Rhames and Angela Bassett pop up as Buffalo Belzer and Sister Helley as well.
At the end, Wendell and savage does a lot and is perfect for watching on Halloween night even if the story leaves a bit to be desired. The film provides a nice throwback to the days when animated films weren’t afraid to go dark and potentially scare living children unlike today’s films. It’s also much more mature and layered than today’s average animation. It’s definitely worth watching, although it may be too much or may not work as well with younger viewers.
still courtesy of Netflix
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