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Neglected and abused by their selfish parents (Martin Short and Jane Krakowski), the four Willoughby children - Tim (Will Forte), Jane (Alessia Cara) and the twins both named Barnaby (Seán Cullen) - hatch a plan to sending their parents on dangerous “vacation” that will leave them orphaned. With the help of a sweet-natured nanny named Linda (Maya Rudolph) and a kindly but intimidating Willy Wonka-esque candymaker named Commander Melanoff (Terry Crews), the young Willoughbys embark on their own high-flying adventure to find the true meaning of family. Directed by Kris Pearn (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2), and Corey Evans, and Rob Lodermeier, and written by Pearn and Mark Stanleigh, The Willoughbys (2020) is an animated family comedy and a Netflix Original based on the book of the same name by Lois Lowry (The Giver).
The Willoughbys (2020) is a fun and colorful family adventure that doesn’t really have that many flaws nor does it have anything particularly outstanding within its delivery. Despite being a little predictable and taking some time to kick into gear, the story is witty and full of humorous set pieces that take us on an imaginative ride and makes the most of its colorful aesthetic. The story utilizes a nameless and sarcastic Cheshire-like blue cat (Ricky Gervais) to be the film’s narrator that also adds to the story’s humor and character. In addition to being appealing to kids, the film also has a quirky charm and a lot of tongue-in-cheek laughs and self-referential humor that appeals mostly to adults. While the story may touch on some sensitive topics, such as kids going out of their way to intentionally orphan themselves, but at the same time, the story succeeds in reminding people that you are loved and have much to be thankful for despite your current circumstances.
The voice acting is done well. Will Forte (Good Boys, Scoob!) as the rational eldest child Tim, Alessia Cara (singer) as the musical-prone middle-child Jane, and Seán Cullen (The 20th Century) as the "creepy" twin boys Barnaby A and Barnaby B do a fantastic job as the Willoughby children, especially Cara who got to show off her singing talent as well. Maya Rudolph (The Good Place, Big Hero 6: The Series) as Linda the fun and eccentric Nanny provides a necessary balance for the kids and a nice contrast against the parents. Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) was perfect as the intimidating but joyous candy factory owner Commander Melanoff and provides the necessary father figure that the kids needed. Jane Krakowski (Dickinson) and Martin Short (The Morning Show, SNL) as the neglectful Willoughby parents who are also ironically named and called Mother and Father, especially to each other, were perfect for their roles. They brought their respective characters to life, portraying them as villains more than parents, and actually made you hate them throughout the entire film. The use of Ricky Gervais (After Life) as the grim and sort of deadpan narrator of the story adds a nice element to the storytelling, which is reminiscent of the technique used in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004). All in all the voice acting was good, with standout performances from Forte, Rudolph, Short, and Krakowski, who all have extensive backgrounds in comedy and are able to easily bring those sensibilities to the film.
Overall, The Willoughbys (2020) is a colorful, humorous, and fun family film that will entertain both kids and adults alike. Of course, the film is a hit or miss with families due to its sometimes sensitive subject matter, such as children intentionally seeking to orphan themselves, the message does remind us the importance of family, being thankful for what we have, and that family comes all different shapes and styles. The voice acting was great with the most noteworthy performances coming from Forte, Rudolph, Short, and Krakowski. All in all, this is a good film that deserves to be given the chance.
NOTE: Although I can understand where the writers were coming from, perhaps the film would have had better success if the writers had chosen to use the term emancipation rather than orphan because it normally implies death and/or loss.
Final Vote --- 6.8 of 10 stars
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