Henry Selick is a nightmare artist. James and the Giant Peach, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Coraline were all created by the Academy Award nominee. His fingers have created carefully constructed characters, grounded physicalities, and daring designs that refute the dedicatedly cutesy look of their computer-animated peers. He plunges audiences into open graves, ravenous rivers, and the very depths of hell to tell a new tale of family trauma, guilt, healing, and demons. The demonic beings are voiced by comedy duo Key and Peele with the latter sharing co-writing and producing credits.

The legend of awe-striking animation is alive and well. They were a double act that excelled in comedy. Two visionaries who have made their mark on modern horror. Ahead of its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, we thought it was a must see. The trailer was promising but it wasn't good enough.

Wendell & Wild plays like Coraline meets Key & Peele. 

The core narrative about a misfit kid going on a dangerous quest in a willful attempt to regain lost happiness was written by Selick and Chapman. Instead of a large-than-life peach populated by talking insects or a tiny hidden door that opens into a realm ruled by a button-eyed Other Mother, 13-year-old orphankat elliot uses a sinister teddy bear to help her out.

Hardened by five years in foster care and juvenile detention,Kat is suspicious of everyone around her, be it the sensitive trans classmate who offers her aid, the mysterious nun who knows a lot about devil's marks, or the chipper trio. Even though she's a bit dubious, she's also a lonely, angry teen abandoned to a child welfare system that doesn't work. She doesn't have anything to lose if her parents return.

A kid making a deal with a demon sounds like the beginning of a terrifying horror film. The devils just want to build a "bemusement park" for their dreams. Whether it's raising the dead to do it, or double crosses, they're game. The Key & Peele stars bounce off each other's vocal performances, bringing a laugh to the bad brothers. There is a band of zombie allies, a spattering of ticks, and a thick layer of slimy stuff.

Wendell & Wild has an edge of teen angst. 

Kat (voiced by Lyric Ross) in Henry Selick's

Credit: Netflix

At the film's center, Ross gives a snarling performance that brings to vivid life the pain he has experienced. Her broken heart can't endure any more grief so she puts on a tough facade to keep others away. A goth-punk aesthetic that includes facial piercings, green hair, and a Catholic School uniform pierced with safety pins is displayed by Selick. Among the peppypreps and gremlin-like nuns, she stands out like a sore middle finger.

Selick's animation shows her hurt through a series of black silhouettes with green eyes. The soundtrack is full of wailing rock songs. She says her pain is more profound than others. "My demons have names, but everyone's got demons of their own."

Her demons aren't the biggest problem she has.

Wendell & Wild attacks the prison industrial complex. 

A demonic real estate scene in

Credit: Netflix

Her hometown has begun to rot. A family business has been destroyed by fire. The houses are empty and rundown. The town used to be a bright place with lights and color. The dying town will be turned into a private prison for profit by two rich real estate developers. Even if it means making deals with demons, they will do everything they can to make that blood money.

The plotline gets a bit shaky, but grade-schoolers will be able to follow it. Selick creates parallels between what it means to be a prisoner, what it means to be in control, and what is needed to topple a system meant to keep the 99% down. It is thrilling for the inventive team-ups and peculiar power moves but also because it spins this fantasy into defiant political territory. One of the self-centered real estate developers looks a lot like a politician.

Religious iconography of nuns, crosses, and demons are used in politics to tell a story about the power of community and family. We can rebuild, heal, and move on to a better tomorrow if we come together.

There are big emotions and big ideas in Wendell and Wild. There are some that are more smoothly woven in than others. It has long been beautiful in its strangeness and scares. He is pushing the envelope on the medium, on what topics can be explored in a kid's movie, and what he can do to dazzle us. Simply put, Wendell & Wild offers a lot of things.

At the Toronto International Film Festival, the film was reviewed out of it's world premiere. The movie will be released in select theaters on October 21st and on October 28th.