As far as stop-motion animation goes, there’s no beating Henry Selick. Despite only having a handful of films to his name, when your filmography features children’s horror classics like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, you don’t really need an extensive filmography. That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to hear that Selick, alongside Jordan Peele, is making a new stop-motion animated horror movie, Wendell & Wild, given both of their experiences with horror throughout their careers.
Selick took the stage at New York Comic Con to go into a deep dive into some of the production elements and the creation of the film itself. Originally, Selick wanted to work with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele after watching them on Comedy Central’s Key & Peele and needed a project to entice them. When Selick originally pitched the film to Peele based on a seven-page short story, Peele wanted to be a part of it, but not just as a voice. He wanted to help produce, finance, and write it. The talent was set, but Selick went on to describe a production that can only be described as “troublesome.”
Since being announced in 2015, Wendell & Wild face a variety of problems getting the film over the finish line. This went beyond just the usual labors of stop-motion animation, which takes a gargantuan amount of effort to create and requires almost saintly patience. There was the obvious impact of COVID, which halted production for 8 months since doing stop-motion animation was virtually impossible to conduct remotely outside of their studio. There were numerous wildfires that cropped up in Portland, where production was based, that required the team to actually evacuate the dolls or risk losing all of their production capabilities. Then you had heat waves which resulted in damage to the dolls, as well as wildly fluctuating temperatures in the winter that resulted in many of the doll’s faces cracking and shattering on a daily basis. So yeah, production was a bit challenging, to say the least.
That didn’t deter Selick though from making the movie and expressed nothing but pride in what he and his team were able to accomplish. He was particularly proud of Key and Peele’s performances as Wendell and Wild respectively and modified the production schedule to benefit the two’s abilities. Selick stated that for most animated productions, voice recording takes place on an individual basis without any interaction between cast members. Sometimes it comes down to location issues or scheduling conflicts, but Selick was adamant that both Key and Peele recorded together based on the chemistry and improv skills the two had when working alongside each other. According to Selick, “They had to be together… that’s how the magic happens.”
Selick also threw a little shade at Disney, saying that he wanted to explore the actual ramifications of a child losing their parents, something that Disney is all too happy to do in virtually all of their films. He mentioned how Disney tends to use that trope but doesn’t actually go into how it affects their children, which he put as a centerpiece of Wendell & Wild. It balanced out though since he referred to Disney’s Zootopia as “an underrated masterpiece” for addressing social themes and topics that aren’t explored in family films, another goal that Selick also wanted to accomplish with this film.
The crowd did see a handful of clips of the film, with the first clip introducing us to Wendell and Wild while they’re imprisoned in Hell, giving some classic Key and Peele vibes. We’re then introduced to our main character Kat in the second clip, dealing with some annoyingly chipper school girls while Kat has more of an aggressive/angsty persona and a badass afropunk-based design. The third clip was the standout of the three, which featured a very intricately animated octopus that Selick said took quite a bit of time to animate and make look as impressive as it does.
By the time the panel concluded, I was more optimistic about the film than when I entered the panel. I want to like the movie, but I wasn’t 100% sold given that this was Selick’s first film in 13 years. Good director or not, such a huge gap like that does make one worry just a tad. But I’m more confident now after hearing Selick describe the film and seeing more of it that this should be a sufficiently fun fright to view this Halloween season.
Wendell & Wild will release on Netflix on October 28th. A limited theatrical run is planned to begin the week before on October 21st.