The Willoughbys

The Willoughbys review: Netflix's stunning movie is like a living ...

Netflix is in a really interesting position right now when it comes to where they are in the realm of animation. They haven’t had a Toy Story-level hit that changes everything yet, but are also still relatively new to the game. With Klaus and now this film, it feels as if Netflix, more than any other studio are the ones taking risks with their output. The bulk of Pixar/ Disney and Dreamworks’s product is franchise-driven,  but Netflix continues to put out “new” things and that’s nice. There’s a fascinating wave of animated films we’re in where the boundaries of what the technology used to craft these films can do are being pushed. Into the Spider-Verse, Klaus, and now The Willoughbys all have distinct personalities in the way they’re presented that you don’t see often in the genre. With The Willoughbys, Netlfix releases a slightly macabre, but ultimately sweet tale of family.


Tim Willoughby (Played by Will Forte) and his siblings, Jane and Barnaby A and B who live with their neglectful, cold parents (Played by Jane Krakowski and Martin Short). The siblings plan to send them on a perilous journey that will orphan themselves in the process. Their parents take the bait and their parents depart.  celebrate, finally rid of their parents and free to do as they please. The celebration is short-lived when they meet the nanny (Played by Maya Rudolph) their parents hired to take care of the children in their absence.  Their nanny sees the way these children lived and takes them along to find a new family to take care of them. 


The decision to give this film a unique, almost story-book like visual personality gives the characters and environments a certain texture and further detaches the film from reality. It’s rare to see a major animation studio doing its best to experiment with and make strides in furthering the medium to this extent. The Willoughbys also has a refreshingly flashy color palette. Very few animated films today are dull looking, but The Willoughbys is populated with nothing but bright dazzling colors. A scene involving a candy powered vehicle particularly stands out in my mind. The film takes its character designs back to the basics. There’s an emphasis on the geometric aspects of their design and the literal shapes that shape these characters that I appreciate.


The Willoughbys finds a lovely message within its premise about finding family even when you don’t expect. It’s slightly on the sappy side, but it airs more on the sweet side in its execution. There are various moments where The Willoughbys reaches to something greater, but more often than not, it botches its balance of quirks and heart. Sometimes the quirkiness can feel a little overwhelming, but I liked seeing a film this proudly weird and even more so, liked the authenticity of its quirks.


The voice cast has several A-listers up its sleeve, but the finest voice performance lies in executive producer Ricky Gervais’s whose feline narrator imbues The Willoughbys with a cynical edge. When he’s introduced, he’s a fun foil to the winning optimism of the Willoughby children and the heightened world they live in. What initially feels like an opportunity for Gervais to spew his typical pessimistic wit shifts as the story goes on, revealing himself who cares about the outcome of the story he’s narrating more than he lets on, while still maintaining that comedic strength. I am also really impressed with Terry Crews’s performance. The larger-than-life presence and grand heart he brings to the role fits very well with the character he’s playing.  

We’re living in troubling times right now and if you need a distraction to take your mind off of things for a couple of hours, The Willoughbys’ll get the job done. I’m not going to call this “the film we need right now”, but it’s enjoyable and I think a lot of people will have fun with it.

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