[Interview] Henry Selick for WENDELL & WILD

[Interview] Henry Selick for WENDELL & WILD
Wendell & Wild l Netflix
In the upcoming stop motion animated film, WENDELL & WILD, scheming demon brothers Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele) enlist the aid of 13-year-old Kat Elliot – a tough teen with a load of guilt – to summon them to the Land of the Living. But what Kat demands in return leads to a brilliantly bizarre and comedic adventure like no other, an animated fantasy that defies the law of life and death, all told through the handmade artistry of stop motion.

Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew took part in a Virtual Presentation and 1:1 interview with Director/Producer/Writer Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline) where they discussed everything from collaborating with Jordan Peele, the price of being a brave kid, and more.

It’s such a pleasure to speak with you today, Henry. To kick things off, can you talk about collaborating on the story with author Clay McLeod Chapman? And at what point did Jordan Peele become involved outside of voice acting for one of the characters?

Henry Selick: Jordan was actually involved at the very front. It’s a little complicated but basically, I met up with Jordan and I pitched this story. He wanted to get involved as more than just a voice actor. He wanted to participate creatively and be a producer, and I loved that. I thought it’d be a lot of fun and so we already kind of worked out a basic plan. Then my manager who’s also a producer, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, said why don’t we do a book at the same time. She represented Clay who had gone to school with Jordan. So Clay was brought in to work with me on the book. The book never really quite got finished, but he participated a lot in shaping the ideas for the project. [The book] will still be happening and it will be coming out, but we had to abandon [it] at one point so as to focus on the movie.

(L-R) Wendell (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), Father Bests (voiced by James Hong) and Wild (voiced by Jordan Peele). Cr: Netflix © 2022

Your films tend to run a very fine line when it comes to appealing to both adults and kids. They’re also a great entry point for kids wanting to dive deeper into the horror genre. Can you talk about the importance of that? 

Henry Selick: I love a lot of horror, a lot of classic horror, psychological horror. I’m not a fan of hyperrealistic slasher stuff, so it’s partly just my own taste of what I wanna do. In a way, you could say I make horror films for kids, but the other expression I use is my films are for brave children of all ages. For the child at heart who wants to get scared. I really think people need to get scared by something. They want to. It’s just part of who we are as humans. So my goal is like, well how far can I take it? Sometimes it’s not up to me. It might be up to the ratings board, like in the film Coraline. [There’s a scene] that’s really intense in one place in particular so I was really surprised when we got a PG rating from the ratings board. I had to get that rating or I would’ve had to cut stuff out of it.

For WENDELL & WILD, we actually have a PG-13 rating. It’s not very violent. There are little touches of it. There’s no sexuality. The language is minimal. In my mind, I think I want the PG-13 to be a flag to younger people, maybe down to eight, that they’ll wanna see this. It’s what your older brothers and sisters are seeing and you’ll wanna see it too. That’s my mission. I wanna make stuff for the brave kids. And be warned, if you’re not [brave yet] you better wait a few years [Laughs].

Overall, stop motion animation is known for being incredibly difficult to do. Was there a particular scene in the film that you found exceptionally hard to execute? 

Henry Selick: Stop motion has the reputation of being especially difficult and there’s behind-the-scenes proof to prove what it takes to physically do it. If you look at Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks films and how long it took to make them, our films don’t normally take longer. It still could be three and a half years. In the case of WENDELL & WILD, it took longer because COVID happened and we had to shut the studios down for a while. Making good animation will be hard no matter how you do it, hand-drawn, puppet animation, clay, or CG. What happens with us is we’re dealing with real gravity and real lights so we have extra challenges.

In every other type of animation, there are key poses and timing, and then a computer or an assistant can do in-betweens and pull drawings and shift it around. In stop motion, it is literally a real performance by the animator through the puppet. It’s like crossing Niagara Falls on a high wire. You’ve got to start and you’ve got to find your way to the other side. That’s the most challenging thing about stop motion in general. Specifically, whatever scenes have a lot of action, multiple characters at once – they’re jumping, they’re flying, they’re interacting with a lot of other things. Those can tend to be the most challenging.

Without you having seen the whole film, I don’t think I’m going to call out anything in particular. But I’ll call out something that was surprisingly fun. When the souls of the dang are dropped down Buffalo Belzer’s (voiced by Ving Rhames) throat, that whole digestive system turned out to be a fun thing to do to build all that stuff and figure out how to move it. And just that journey was sort of a change of pace for us. The stomach’s so big that we have pictures of two or three people sitting inside it [Laughs].

When it comes to the characters in the film, do you have a favorite? 

Henry Selick: My favorites are the leads – Kat (voiced by Lyric Ross), Wendell (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), and Wild (voiced by Jordan Peele). But then I like some of the critters like spark plug and I love that cute little goat!

Believe me when I say, you won’t soon forget the adorableness of that little goat anytime soon. WENDELL & WILD premieres in select theaters on Oct. 21 and on Netflix on Oct. 28.

Shannon McGrew
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