Some of the best children’s movies often revolve around a darker storyline. Matilda, for example, is a young girl born into a neglectful family who doesn’t appreciate her. Cinderella has to grow up with her abusive step-mother. Rapunzel is kidnapped and held prisoner. And let’s not forget about the orphans: Aladdin, Annie, Snow White, and more all have to survive without their parents. Out of this comes growth and a chance at a different type of family.
The Willoughbys, the titular characters in this brand new animationt, are also children of tragedy because their parents…are the worst.
Directed by Kris Pearn, and based on a children’s book by Lois Lowry, The Willougbys revolves around a once proud and historic family. However, the current generation of family is very dysfunctional. Mother and Father are too busy being romantically involved with one another to take care of their four kids. In fact, they would rather that they didn’t have children out all. Led by a plucky Tim, the children concoct a plan to “orphan-fy” themselves, sending their parents on a perilous holiday. However, they didn’t expect their parents to hire an overzealous nanny to take care of them…
Pearn is best known for the brilliant Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (that brought us this timeless gag.) Alongside animators from Bron Aniation, Pearn brings us a colourful escapade into the weird and wonderful Willoughby world. Bright enough to keep the little ones entertained, The Willougbys is an imaginative adventure filled with vivid details such as yarn for hair, a candy coated general, and the slithery way the parents wrap themselves around each other. It is a quirky yet big-hearted movie.
At a snappy 93 minutes, The Willoughbys zoom through the story. The quick witted jokes come fast and occasionally that diminishes the plot. It feels chocked to the brim with comedy and antics that it causes you to lose attention half-way through out of sheer exhaustion. However, when the jokes land, they can make you laugh out loud. Plus, you do enjoy the children – Tim, Jane, and the Barnaby Twins – who deserve to find a decent home.
There is great voice-work from the likes of Martin Short, Will Forte, Terry Crewes, and the scene-stealing Maya Rudolph (whom I wish to call me small bones.) The only downside here is that it is narrated by Ricky Gervais as a cat. His sardonic voice-work becomes grating very quickly.
Overall, The Willoughbys is a kind and crazy treat for cinema, proving that Netflix can produce award-winning animation as well as sugary, surprises too.
The Willoughbys is available to watch on Netflix.