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.
Hey everyone! Merry Christmas! I hope you are all doing well. As you all know I am deeply ensconced in all things Christmas right now with my work on the Hallmarkies Podcast. I have currently watched and reviewed 85 Christmas movies with 2 more weeks to go! It’s a lot of work but it is also very rewarding.
This naturally hasn’t left me a ton of time to write about the feature films I’ve been seeing (yes still making time to go to screenings). So, I hope you will forgive me for doing one of my current mini reviews posts and hopefully I will be able to expound upon them at a future date. There are just only so many hours in the day for one human to work and write about movies! 🙂
I will obviously be writing more on Frozen II including my Disney Canon analysis but here is my youtube review. Basically I really enjoyed Frozen II. I loved how the story made Elsa and Anna deal with the messy truth of their parents and how they treated the people in the midst. I loved Elsa and Anna’s struggles to understand each other and thought the music was incredible. I am particularly in love with Jonathan Groff singing ‘Lost in the Woods’. The animation is stunning and the voice acting is outstanding. The plot has a few problems but overall I was very entertained by it.
8 out of 10
Speaking of youtube reviews I also recorded my review of the new Netflix animated film Klaus (see above) and boy did I love this movie. It’s basically an origin story of Santa Claus with 2D animation (a Rachel movie if I’ve ever heard it!) Going into it I thought it would be similar to Santa in Rise of the Guardians (which is a movie I love) but it actually proved to be quite different. Santa here is a wounded person who is closer to the father in Song of the Seathan our typical jolly old St Nick. I loved the journey of all the characters. I loved the 2D animation and how director Sergio Pablos used light and music to create tone. If you haven’t seen it you really should. I just wish I could see it in the theater! 🙁
9 out of 10
The Good Liar
I often jokingly talk in my reviews about the new demographic of ‘old people movies‘. This is a new category where Hollywood makes movies starring in and for senior citizens. The new movie The Good Liar is probably the most violent of the entries in this category but it’s an entertaining enough little caper. Helen Mirren stars as a retired professor who meets a charming bachelor played by Ian McKellen. The 2 begin dating, and it turns out they are both not what we initially believe them to be. I will say this movie requires a major suspension of belief as each reveal gets more ridiculous than the next. But if you can take that leap there’s fun to be had and the acting is of course top notch. It all makes for an entertaining if silly ride. (The film does earn its R rating so be prepared)
6 out of 10
I really want to write more about 1917 because it is an incredible experience but for now this will have to do. In what is definitely one of the best movies of the year, director Sam Mendes has created a war film that completely absorbed me and left me an emotional mess afterwards. It reminded me a lot of Hacksaw Ridge which is another film I love. Both this and Hacksaw focus on one human amidst the horrors of war and leave you rooting for this person’s success.
In 1917, Roger Deakin’s incredible cinematography makes us feel like we are seeing one shot photography, which is more than just a gimmick. It makes the viewer feel like they are the 3rd person in this risky mission across No Man’s Land in World War 1. It is violent but I was rooting for the characters and riveted by every turn in their journey. Definitely seek this film out. It’s worth the investment and you will leave inspired.
9 out of 10
Jumanji: the Next Level-
I enjoyed 2017’s Jumaji: Welcome to the Jungle. It was a terrific way to do a remake of a beloved film. It has the bones of the classic but it’s own story and take on the world. More importantly it was funny. I will forgive a lot of problems in a story if I am laughing. This is where we run into problems with the sequel Jumanji: The Next Level: it’s not very funny. Or rather I should say, it has a few funny jokes they tell over and over again; thereby, weakening their impact.
This Jumaji film isn’t awful. The action set pieces are fun and the cast can be likable. However, there’s nothing new here. It’s like they got to old people jokes and gave up. Danny Glover and Danny Devito are fun enough but pretty cliched. Awkwafina is given nothing to do and Nick Jonas isn’t brought on until late in the 2nd act. I also did not appreciate the excessive profanity thrown in for no reason. It did nothing for the characters or story and makes it so I cannot recommend it as a harmless family adventure film. My advice is watchDora and the Lost City of Goldinstead. It had all the adventure and humor Jumanji: The Next Level fails to bring.
4.5 out of 10
Playmobil: The Movie-
Most followers of this site probably know about the epic failure at the box office that is Playmobil: the Movie. However, box office is not everything so I went to see this film yesterday with an open mind. Unfortunately cinema-goers didn’t see this film for a reason. The problem is there are too many ideas. At each turn we are presented with new characters, worlds, villains, motivations, and more. It becomes overwhelming. The film feels very shouty and especially the music did not work at all. I don’t even think small children will like it because most of the jokes are about dating, marriage and other adult topics. It feels like they put 1000 ideas into a bucket and picked one out each week to create the script. It so doesn’t work despite the animation being fine and the action quickly paced. Playmobil: the Movie is a definite skip.
2 out of 10
Bombshell is a bit of an oddity of a film. It’s an attempt to tell a story about conservative women who stick up for themselves. This is very unusual for typically liberal Hollywood, and I think that’s a great thing. If movements like #metoo are going to work we need to tell all women’s stories not just the ones Hollywood agrees with on politics. Some people will not be able to get over the fact that Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly work for Fox News but that wasn’t an issue for me. The makeup on Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman is incredible. Really all the casting is spot on. They all look so close to the original people!
I was drawn into the story of Bombshell but I do think there are some problems. I understand the need for the fictional Margot Robbie character as an amalgamation of a bunch of women (and telling Gretchen’s story she couldn’t tell because of settlements) but it felt inconsistent and inauthentic. Also there is something about the production and direction that felt on a made for TV level. I love made for TV movies but I expect a film with such performances to feel a little more cinematic. Still overall I enjoyed Bombshell and recommend seeing it for the story and acting.
6.5 out of 10
There you have it! My quick updates on what I have been watching at the theater. If you have seen any of these films let me know what you think. Thanks!