Henry Selick’s Wendell & Wild, a Netflix stop-motion animation film starring the infamous duo Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key (as Wendell and Wild, respectively) alongside Lyric Ross and Angela Bassett, is opening the bowels of its Underworld realm on October 28. The film follows its two titular characters, a pair of scheming demon brothers who try to finagle their way into the Land of the Living to fulfill their dream. Wendell and Wild try to accomplish this with the help of Kat, a punk rock teenager with a profound ability and her own heartbreaking motivations.
In spring 2022, Nerdist traversed to the nexus of Wendell & Wild‘s production—Portland, OR—to experience the incredible ingenuity, passion, and good old fashioned hard work it took to bring this film to fruition. Of course, the ultimate genesis of Wendell & Wild comes from Henry Selick’s brilliant mind. He sat down with us and other attending outlets to spill all the details about this special stop-motion film. From its personal inspiration to working with Key and Peele to the film’s decidedly unrefined nature, Henry Selick cannot wait to unveil this delightfully macabre creation to the world.
Way back in April 2022, Wendell & Wild was wrapping much of its onset production. Brown boxes traversed the hallways and several set pieces stood quietly in dark spaces. But Selick made his way to the nondescript facility to sit down with journalists, his eyes glistening with unbridled enthusiasm on a chilly and rainy morning. Much of that passion stems from the familial origin story of the film’s titular characters along with making his aspirations for working with two comedians he admired come to fruition.
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“Wendell & Wild started out as a short story I did many, many years ago, inspired by my sons who are now grown,” Selick reveals. “When they were little, I drew a picture of them as demons ‘cause they were somewhat demonic at times… Years later, I became a huge fan of the Key & Peele show. I’d seen [them] on MADtv but when they got their own show, I was so impressed by their work. I said, ‘what the hell, I’ll reach out. They probably don’t know who I am or anything…’ But I wanted to work with them. I’m not known for comedy in my films. There’s always comedic elements but I really had this desire to work with them and bring what they do into a project I’m on.”
He reached out to the duo five years ago and, surprisingly, Jordan Peele wanted to meet in person. Peele wanted to know all about his ideas and offered plenty of conceptual feedback of his own. Henry Selick thought that Wendell & Wild’s dynamic was in the vein of a Key & Peele skit. And that makes sense with the demon brothers having very humanlike qualities, specifically humor.
At the time, Peele was just beginning to start Monkeypaw Productions. And he not only wanted to play a role in Wendell & Wild, but also lend a hand in its production. Interestingly, Peele wanted to swiftly pitch the film to companies in case his then-upcoming thriller Get Out was a failure. (Reader, it was, in fact, a resounding critical and commercial success.) And that film opened doors for Wendell & Wild with several companies wanting to get onboard.
However, their number one choice was Netflix Animation for several reasons. “We knew that our film was going to be unusual… Netflix being the place we felt would give us the creative support for something unusual and support a stop-motion film,” Selick said. “Stop-motion has always been the stepchild of the animation industry. It’s never been that successful as the big CG films.”
Wendell & Wild‘s Classic Aesthetics and Its Black Girl Punk Protagonist Kat Elliot
Of course, Selick recognized that Key & Peele’s impeccable dynamic would take center stage through their voices and improvisation. “Their comedic and their comfortable interactions with one another after having known each other for a long time just heightened the comedy of the characters,” he affirms. “They also offered up a lot of different approaches. They know so much about comedy and comedy duos. You know, they asked ‘are you looking for the peas in a pod approach or the Abbott and Costello approach?’ They know how to do everything… we’ve got hours of them riffing and topping on another. Quite a bit of improv is in the film. They are geniuses… I think they are the best comedy duo in history.”
After showing a brief clip that perfectly shows the demon brothers dynamic it’s clear why the comedic duo works so well for this film. Kat’s love for music also shines, which will become a vital component of her personality and her arc.
And, from an aesthetic point of view, Selick’s imprint shines brightly alongside Pablo Lobato’s unique puppet designs. It will surely draw comparisons to his previous flawless film The Nightmare Before Christmas. He says Wendell & Wild isn’t an overly stylish offering—and that’s the whole point. “This movie is not as slick and perfect as Coraline but I think that its story and characters are so compelling. I think there’s been decades now of lubricated imagery… so with the bumps and lumps, I think we will stand out as something very different.”
And there’s no protagonist who is quite as different as Kat Elliot, voiced by Lyric Ross. She’s a 13-year-old fresh out of the juvenile system who is in the Land of the Living. And Kat is very much so a fish-out-of-water. Another clip gives us glimpse into Kat’s world, where her love for music is evident. Her infamous boombox (that is worthy of its own YouTube channel) is a key component of her personality and her arc.
“She’s been given a second chance at this ritzy school at Rust Bank Catholic [School] for Girls,” Selick reveals as he showcases the standard model of Kat’s puppet. “Her social worker gives her this bag of stuff and this old boombox… It was her dad’s boombox. It’s called the Cyclops, it was a ‘70s thing with a giant speaker… When she’s escorted to her room, she opens the bag and there’s all her dad’s punk stuff. Her dad was a first generation Black punk fan and that’s her bond to him. And she’s kind of an Afropunk girl. She transforms herself into that, puts on these huge monster boots and struts the hallways, intimidating and thrilling all the girls and terrifying the nuns.”
He hints that Kat can summon demons but doesn’t reveal more details because spoilers, obviously. Sounds like our kind of girl. The connection that Kat has from the Land of the Living to the Underworld along with Wendell and Wild’s determination to make their dreams come true sets up quite the story. Is there truly a villain or evil person here? Or are the characters in Wendell & Wild all standing in a gray moral area?
Henry Selick says that evil is afoot… but it will not be who you think it is. There are many other characters at play, some with nebulous agendas and others who just look plain frightening. Find out what thrills and chills this dark fantasy comedy will deliver just in time for Halloween.