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‘Wendell & Wild’ Review | A Delightfully Wicked Stop-Motion Adventure

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From the delightfully wicked minds of Henry Selick and producer Jordan Peele comes “WENDELL & WILD”, an animated tale about scheming demon brothers Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Peele), who enlist the aid of 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.

Review

“Wendell and Wild” is a solid return to Stop-Motion Animation from Director Henry Selick & Jordan Peele who reunites with Keegan Michael Key for this spooktacular! macabre adventure that features stunning visuals, dark comedy, and a touching story about facing your personal demons whether physically or mentally.

Henry Selick makes his triumphant return to stop motion as he masterfully handcrafts a nightmarish world once again. The Academy Award-nominated director has ventured and brought to life “James and the Giant Peach”, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Coraline. Now after thirteen years he’s crafted a core thrilling narrative about a misfit young girl alongside co-writer/producer Jordan Peele, who also stars as one of the titular demons alongside his long-time comedic partner Keegan-Michael Key, Peele brings his unique voice and flavour to the project.

WENDELL & WILD – (L-R) Wendell (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (voiced by Jordan Peele). Cr: Netflix © 2022

Adapted from an unpublished book that Selick wrote with horror author Clay McLeod Chapman, Wendell & Wild showcases the story’s 13-year-old protagonist. Kat (Lyric Ross) is a green-haired outsider with a tragic past who has come to Rust Bank Catholic School for Girls to disturb the peace, blasting punk rock through her dad’s prized boombox, the Cyclops. Through a magic toy bear called Bearz-A-Bub (Phoebe Lamot) and a nun named Sister Helley (Angela Bassett), Kat learns she’s more than a chip-on-the-shoulder punk rocker — she’s a Hellmaiden, a girl who can summon demons. 

Lyric Ross gives a powerful performance that brings to life the pain Kat has suffered, haunted by her past she puts on this gruff front to keep others away because her broken heart cannot endure any more grief. Her character design indeed illustrates her pain and disguise with a goth-punk aesthetic that includes facial piercings, her green hair, and her school uniform pierced with safety pins, paired with fishnets, and black platform boots.

the attention to detail throughout the stop-motion adventure is incredibly artistic as Kat has roughly 160 individually hand-curled strands of hair on her head, each made of dyed wool. The costuming team thinks through every detail of each outfit, down to creating scale-correct wrinkles and creases in clothing, including Kat’s school uniform plaid Rust Bank Catholic skirt that she rips up and remakes to look more punk, which took
the costuming team 45 steps and five days to make. Kat’s skirt has a vertical plaid pattern, and the rest of the RBC girls have a straight pattern, visually setting her apart.

WENDELL & WILD – Kat (voiced by Lyric Ross). Cr: Netflix © 2022

Kat’s story is intertwined with that of Wendell and Wild, two demons who want more out of life than being stuck at the Scream Faire as they plot their escape from Buffalo Belzer (Ving Rhames), who also happens to be their father. Wendell, Wild’s hot-tempered older brother, and the brains behind this duo of scheming demons. Built like a walking stick, he and Wild dream of one day escaping their miserable lives in the Underworld to build something amazing in the Land of the Living. Once there, Wendell’s ample wit and charm are bound to win over any naysayers.

Wild on the other hand is the younger half of this demonic duo, a stout rulebreaker and slacker who gulps stolen hair crème to “tickle his tummy.” When Wild brags to the wrong demons about their secret plans, he and Wendell are exiled to the barren hinterlands of the Underworld with only a giant pet bug named Sparky for company.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are a phenomenal duo and the chemistry between the two truly carries the film. Their puppet counterparts are a spitting image as the puppeteers have managed to capture their likeness and characteristics. To help character designer Pablo Lobato prepare for designing the characters, Selick suggested watching Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key’s comedy show KEY & PEELE. Selick specifically noted the sketch “Prepared for Terries” — the famous sketch was two eccentric airline passengers preparing to combat a hypothetical terrorist plot.

Wendell and Wild’s father, Lord of the Underworld and Ruler of the Scream Faire — an afterlife destination for the Souls of the Danged. He’s mean, scary, and vain, but he’s got a soft spot in his heart as big as the bald spot on his head. The scope and scale of his puppet are immense, the design for Belzer’s giant hands, which were built separately, was inspired by King Kong’s iconic hand design from the 1933 film, and The puppet for Belzer was cast using silicone and sugar pearls, the same kind you would use to decorate baked goods, to give him a squishy, stretchable, lightweight body.

I also loved the use of the colour green. Green is an important colour throughout the film, and ties into the Underworld. Wendell and Wild’s eyes go green when they’re angry, and Sister Helley’s redemption chamber is full of green. Kat’s green hair visually ties her to the green colours throughout the Underworld, a nod to her Hellmaiden powers.

The great Angela Bassett’s vocal performance is another outstanding role. SISTER HELLEY is a nun with a dark past, she is the charismatic science teacher at Rust Bank Catholic School for Girls who wows her students with presentations of shape-shifting octopuses and carnivorous plants. 

The rest of the colourful cast of characters is incredibly designed as Kat shares the screen with Sam Zelaya’s trans character Raúl Cocolotl A talented artist, and now the only boy at Rust Bank Catholic School for Girls. He’d like to be friends with Kat, who keeps him at a distance before reluctantly enlisting his help to deal with the chaos her arrival creates. Raul wants to use his art to expose the monsters who are gobbling up their town. Raúl’s character design was influenced by Mayan sculptures, Mexican masks, and voice actor Sam Zelaya.

Tamara Smart voices Siobhan, the lifestyle ringleader at Rust Bank Catholic School for Girls. Sweet and earnest, Siobhan might seem simple at first, but there’s hidden depth and a rebellious streak lurking behind those blunt bangs. Siobhan’s character design was influenced by the character Cher Horowitz in the 1995 film CLUELESS and Nicki Minaj’s famous blonde wig with blunt bangs.

However, Wendell & Wild aren’t really the villains throughout the film. Selick’s approach is that the film basically suggests that there are worse things on Earth than demons in Hell—those who profit off the misery of others. The material shows the corporate monsters who are literally willing to murder for profit and capitalism. IRMGARD KLAXON (Maxine Peake) and LANE KLAXON (David Harewood) are wealthy British builders who specialize in private, for-profit prisons, the Klaxons have been trying to take over Rust Bank for years to build a new monstrosity: Klax Korp. And they will stop at nothing, including murder. Their sweet daughter, Siobhan, has no idea who her parents really are but when she does, it’s full rebellion. Both Peake and Harwood give two over-the-top performances including James Hong as Father Bests.

Stop-motion animation is actually the oldest type of animation. It’s drawing things, generating them on computers or moving them — small positions at a time and then capturing each movement. And when you play it back, it comes to life. Stop motion is having these really beautifully built puppets accompanied by incredible animators who then reposition those puppets slowly, very slight amounts, and perform through the puppets, capturing each frame of that performance. And when you play it back, it gives the illusion of life.

Great animation and great characters are what really matter and the medium keeps evolving with new techniques and technology in order to get the best performance out of the puppet. They now CG to print out 3D face replacements, and there’s a seam between the upper and lower face so that you can change eyebrows separately from the lower — it helps multiply the range of expressions. Selick and Co have chosen to keep those seem’s rather than digitally erase them. Across all of WENDELL & WILD, there are 342 individual puppets with 129 unique designs. There are 165 unique sets total, most of which were then broken into smaller sets and redressed for specific camera angle needs.

Final Thoughts

With an Afropunk vibrant culture of music, style, and attitude, “Wendell & Wild” is the perfect film for this Halloween season. It has all the scary stuff you might expect — demons, zombies, ghosts. It’s got the feel of a Halloween film, but the story will be really refreshing, especially for families. The attention to detail and character design are outstanding as is the touching story about facing your demons.

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Kung Fu Panda 4 Review: Po and Co are Back to Pack Hilarious Punches.

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I’ve seen too many great animation franchises deliver diminishing returns with more and more sequels. To name some recent examples one could include How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me, Cars, etc. Kung Fu Panda is another franchise that unfortunately falls in this category. The threequel that released in 2016, was most people’s choice for the weakest entry in the beloved franchise. So that made me pretty skeptical whether the world was ready for this franchise to return and gave us good cause not to have expectations set too high, especially given the weak marketing campaign and smaller production budget. To make things worse, it was being reported that the furious five would not be a part of the story.

So I went in with my expectations in check but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s been 8 years since the last Kung Fu Panda movie, but the characters are somehow still fresh and fun. One of the best things that the makers are able to do is remind the viewers what makes Po such a darling and why we love him so much. Jack Black is such a natural fit for his voice and makes this character special with his wit and wisdom in this latest entry. 

This entry is notably structured in a very different way from the other 3 entries. This one focuses on Po’s search for a successor and his ascension to the Master of Peace. The main characters are split up pretty early in the movie and are sent on separate adventures in a sort of buddy-cop-style scenario. On one side we have Po and Awkwafina’s Zhen, and on the other, we have Bryan Cranston and James Hong as Po’s dads. These two duos are a lot of fun in their own ways.

(from left) Po (Jack Black) and Zhen (Awkwafina) in Kung Fu Panda 4 directed by Mike Mitchell.

Po and Xen have more of a good boy-bad boy dynamic, while the dads have more of a light-hearted brotherhood between them. Both pairs of misfits deliver a string of humorously entertaining sequences that will have you laughing your heart out. The humor here works for most parts apart from one or two instances and the dialogue in particular is very smartly written. The story, on the other hand, is where the movie is at its weakest.

The structuring is pretty generic with a very cliche twist at the beginning of the second half and the script mostly fails to provide significantly fresh plot points. But credit to it for executing the successor plotline better than a lot of movies that have tried it, especially Cars 3. The writers make sure to put their entire focus on humor and entertainment value, but they do come up with a couple of charming moments and some subplots that come full circle.

The animation here is surprisingly really good, especially given the significantly lower budget. The trailers didn’t get too many people encouraged about the quality of animation, but I can tell you that even though it’s not DreamWorks’ best, it’s still really well done. The background score also hits the right spot where it’s able to compliment the scene and lift it at the same time. The voice work here is also pretty solid. Jack Black is amazing as always and Awkwafina Ke Huy Quan are welcome additions.

(Center) Chameleon (Viola Davis) in Kung Fu Panda 4 directed by Mike Mitchell.

Apart from Po, the best part of the movie is Li and Ping. They are the heart of this movie. The two of them have incredible chemistry and Mike Mitchell finds a way to bring out the best from the both of them. They play off of each other in the most silly, but whimsical manner which is just a joy to watch. We could do with a spin-off of them. Ian McShane’s return as Tai Lung is another highlight here. He is nicely integrated and fits well into the story being told. On the other hand, Viola Davis’ Chameleon is somewhat of a disappointment. For a villain that has the powers of all the previous villains, she was a rather tame antagonist.

Overall, Kung Fu Panda 4 is a return to form for the beloved franchise. It has a lot of elements that made the franchise successful and is a much-needed reminder of how much we love these characters and in particular, Po. Jack Black knocks it out of the park with Bryan Cranston and James Hong emerging as surprise standouts. It lacks the emotional depth of the first two entries and has a disappointingly tame villain. But it is a major improvement from the last entry and unsurprisingly very very entertaining.

Kung Fu Panda 4 releases in cinemas on March 8.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_inKs4eeHiI&pp=ygUXa3VuZyBmdSBwYW5kYSA0IHRyYWlsZXI%3D

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Animation

Marvel Animation’s X-Men ’97 | Official Trailer — Disney +

Continuation of X-Men: The Animated Series (1992)

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Genre:

Animation, Action, Adventure

Release Date:

March 20, 2024

Director:

Disney +

Cast:

Jennifer Hale, Ray Chase, Lenore Zann

Post Summary:

Continuation of X-Men: The Animated Series (1992)

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Animation

Despicable Me 4 | Official Trailer — Universal Pictures

Plot unknown. Fourth installment of the ‘Despicable Me’ franchise.

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Despicable Me 4 [credit: Universal Pictures]

Genre:

Animation, Adventure, Comedy

Release Date:

July 3, 2024

Director:

Chris Renaud, Patrick Delage

Cast:

Steve Carell, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wig, Sofía Vergara

Plot Summary:

Plot unknown. Fourth installment of the ‘Despicable Me’ franchise.

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