If you had told me when I was a kid that someday I would be able to see a quirky stop-motion film with an underdog character that looked like me, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it’s 2022 and here we are with WENDELL & WILD, and it’s giving me everything I’ve ever wanted out of that Henry Selick (or some would say Tim Burton) dark fantasy aesthetic.
Monkeypaw Productions and Netflix are opening a door that Tim Burton seemingly closed a few years ago in that infamous interview. After being questioned about the lack of diversity in his films, he stated, “I remember back when I was a child watching ‘The Brady Bunch’ and they started to get all politically correct, like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black — I used to get more offended by that than just — I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.” The statement really hit hard with black fans of his films. When there is a lack of diversity in films, we often cling to the most familiar representation we can find. So, Burton’s preference to write underdog outsider stories resonated. However, with WENDELL & WILD coming to Netflix soon, it looks like black fans of quirky, macabre underdogs will have a movie for them by them.
Peele and Monkeypaw are joining forces with former Burton collaborator, Henry Selick. WENDELL & WILD expands on the idea that black people can fit into an aesthetic, something that Selick has already accomplished with his film, Coraline. This made a perfect pairing for Peele’s attention to detail and authenticity when telling black stories.
WENDELL & WILD tells the tale of Kat (played by Lyric Ross), a recently orphaned girl struggling with demons both literally and figuratively. Kat finds herself at Rust Bank Catholic School after fighting her way through the system. Plagued with guilt at the loss of her parents, which she feels responsible for, she tries to survive in her current home. However, the school isn’t all that it seems and the veil they have pulled over the situation is already pretty thin and transparent. While Kat is interned at Rust Bank, she discovers a kind of magic within her and we are introduced to a cast of characters both friends and foes.
This brings us to THE Wendell & Wild (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) two demons who are trying to find their own version of redemption. Kat’s newly discovered supernatural abilities bring them together and they make a pact. If Kat gives them what they want, Kat might be able to see her parents again. I don’t want to share any further spoilers, but this film definitely examines extremely important social issues which is something we can always expect from Jordan Peele.
The visuals in the film are just as stunning. Rust Bank is a dark and cold industrial setting but with such warmth and vibrance brought in by its characters and the magic that lies within them. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear the musical stylings of many black and brown artists who founded the punk and ska scene. Audiences can enjoy The Specials, The X-Ray Spex, and the Bad Brains floating through the scenes and bumping through Kat’s cyclops boom box.
WENDELL & WILD is a fun and heartwarming ride that I think all audiences can enjoy. But, I know this will resonate with black fans of this genre, especially those of us who have found homes in alt communities that may not always accept us or portray us in their media. This film cements that we are here and we always were here.
You can catch WENDELL & WILD on October 28th on Netflix.
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