As a medium, animation allows directors to embrace their full imagination. Where an independent production may struggle to craft certain effects, animation lets the creatives run wild. Director Zach Passero has worked on both sides of the business. He was a makeup artist on the horror film May and nearly ten other films as an animator. Passero steps into the director’s chair for The Weird Kidz after previously directing shorts. His feature animation debut is something of a mixed bag. While his ideas are sound, the animation and execution of some ideas holds back the film from something special.
Set during a camping trip, The Weird Kidz follows three teens and their two “babysitters” for a trip into the desert. Dug (Tess Passero), Fatt (Brian Ceely) and wants to bond with his older brother Wyatt (Ellar Coltrane), while Wyatt wants to hang out with his new girlfriend Mary (Sydney Wharton). However, their camping trip takes a crazy turn when a monster arrives, exposing a much larger conspiracy at work.
Passero proves his ability to craft an interesting genre tale, while paying homage to several eras of filmmaking. The most obvious influence comes from 1980s adventure films, but The Weird Kidz showcases a sinister nature that many of those features did not possess. There’s true darkness and violence at hand, which could tip too far in terms of tonal balance. However, Passero manages that aspect as a storyteller, and the narrative never loses momentum on that front.
Additionally, there are unique visuals that could only be created with animation. Not only does the monster in question look the part, but it allows for stunningly disgusting moments to play out without inducing vomit. It also allows for psychedelic sequences to play out, allowing us to feel as disoriented as the characters on screen. Again, Passero realizes that using the medium of animation provides him storytelling freedom that an independent budget might not. It allows his unique blend of monster flick, cult film, and Tremors to soar as a storytelling vehicle.
However, the aspect that truly holds back The Weird Kidz is the animation. The visuals nearly reach excellence during some sequences, but others feel like pre-1997 South Park episodes. While this makes sense on an independent budget, it also holds back the film from the immersive feeling it might have been able to achieve.
Luckily, the emotional stakes and repercussions of the events provide The Weird Kidz the engine to keep things interesting. Even as the film struggles and distracts visually, the writing keeps us enthralled. It’s the kind of showcase that should open doors for Passero so that his next project can craft visuals to match its ambitious tale.