Movie Review: The Willoughbys (2020)

Based on the book of the same name by Lois Lowry, The Willoughbys is a 2020 computer animated film directed by Kris Pearn (co-director of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2) released onto Netflix. Narrated by a talking cat (Ricky Gervais), the film tell of the Willoughbys, a formerly great family dynasty, currently headed by the love obsessed and horrendously neglectful parents Walter (Martin Short) and Helga (Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) along with eldest son, Tim (Will Forte); middle child, Jane (Alessia Cara); and, youngest children, the twins who share one sweater and one name between them, the Barnabys (Seán Cullen). When a new nanny (Maya Rudolph) comes to care for the children, the Willoughby children come to find out what true family really means.

+ the voice work is fine, with Gervais, Short and Cullen my favourites. The creepy vocalisations between the family parents are the things of hilarious nightmares, and the monotone, monosyllabic sentences from the Barnabys are always great
+ kind of funny, kind of heartwarming, kind of weird. I don’t really know what genre to put this under, but it was a Netflix animation about kids, not entirely for kids. There were some dark moments here, but overall you wouldn’t call it a grim film. The physical nature of the parents’ relationship was at times very non-PG, but only if you looked into it too much
+ the closest thing I could compare the animation to would be Coraline, in that it was sometimes a bit janky, but intentionally so without ever losing the charm and colourful nature of a “children’s” movie. In terms of charm, director Pearn’s previous film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is a close comparison
+ the background music is often very catchy, and a few original songs spice things up. You won’t think about it until you hear the songs again by themselves, but they are great

– obviously I am writing this in hindsight, but there were a few moments that I was sure would be the set up for something far more later on. Even up until the very ending, you’ll expect some things to happen that don’t, and won’t expect a few things that do

> The Willoughbys throughout history have all had magnificent facial hair – made of yarn. It was very unsettling, and one of the reasons I compare it (favourably) to Coraline
> I forgot you still can’t screenshot Netflix. Truly that is one of the worst parts of these reviews

Should you see this film: I think so. This was hardly the best animated movie with a theme of family love, but there was still something very ‘must see’ about it. The adult oriented humour of the parents and the slapstick comedy from the kids make this a movie the whole family will enjoy, albeit for different reasons.


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