If you are an animation fan there is perhaps nothing more exciting than what is happening over at Netflix. In recent years they have been gathering a group of talented animators and collaborators unmatched by any other studio. This is true for series like Hilda and Disenchantment and feature films like last year’s Oscar-nominated Klaus (also my favorite movie of 2019!). What’s especially exciting is they are experimenting with new animation styles and bringing back traditional artistry like 2D animation.
Unfortunately they can’t all be winners and their latest entry The Willoughbys wasn’t my cup of tea. I love the animation and appreciate some of the moments of heart, but its hurt by an uneven tone and a story that fails to produce laughs or provide us with memorable characters.
The Willoughbys is based on a novel by Lois Lowry, and I can imagine the humor working well on the written page. A lot of the jokes are of the dark and dry variety, which is very tough to pull off and not feel mean-spirited. It’s similar to the challenges found in adapting Roald Dahl to the big screen. His books are so strange and dark that when you translate them to screen you have to add a lot of whimsy to make the stories palatable. It’s the same problem with The Willoughbys, and I don’t think they succeeded in finding that balance.
The Willoughbys tells the story of the eponymous family who have the most horrible parents since the Mom and Dad in Madeline. They are disgusted by their children and have no interest in taking care of them. One day they find a new baby and the parents tell the kids to get rid of the baby and not come home until they do. In revenge they decide to send their parents on a ‘murderous vacation’ so they can be on their own and be orphans.
I can see why some kids will like this style of comedy. I used to love playing orphans with my friends and pretending to take care of ourselves without need of parents. It was an empowering game. However, the tone in The Willoughbys is too all over the place to work on that level and the humor almost never made me laugh. I also didn’t feel like I got to know any of the children very well.
If you look at a similarly structured film in Coraline, I get to know her way better than any of the kids here. Coraline also has a much more consistent tone which makes the scary and funny parts work much better than anything we see in The Willoughbys. I’m rooting for Coraline in a way I never am for these kids who are more props for jokes than compelling characters.
All that said, if you are jonesing for something to watch on Netflix you could do worse than The Willoughbys. It’s not awful. I just didn’t think the script was sharp or funny enough for a recommendation. I would strongly recommend you watch Hilda or Klaus instead of spending time with The Willoughbys.
4.5 out of 10