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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Willoughbys is an unconventional animated movie based on Lois Lowry's same-named book. It tells the tale of a family of neglected kids as they purposely "orphan" themselves from their selfish parents and embark on a life-affirming adventure. The story has dark elements (the parents are funny but relentlessly mean and neglectful) that are lightened by the movie's bright, upbeat, clever execution. Comic pratfalls (tumbles, narrow escapes, crashes, a booby-trapped house) and mildly suspenseful scenes (a few shivery moments in a snowstorm) are frequent but farcical. The kids "imagine" their parents in a number of life-threatening moments (e.g., sharks, bears). There are also a couple of pee jokes. With a wonderful voice cast of comedy stars (Maya Rudolph, Will Forte, Ricky Gervais, and more), the movie is best for kids who are comfortable with real vs. imaginary violence and who won't be distressed by watching a comically loathsome mom and dad mistreat their very resilient kids.
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What's the story?
In THE WILLOUGHBYS, the four Willoughby kids -- Tim (voiced by Will Forte), Jane (Alessia Cara), and twins Barnaby and Barnaby (Sean Cullen) -- come from a long line of successful, respected, and mustache-wearing ancestors. Unfortunately, however, the present-day adult Willoughbys (Martin Short and Jane Krakowski) don't live up to the family name. Not only are they neither successful nor respected, but they're also atrocious parents. Spending all of their days smooching, knitting, and wrapped in each other's arms, they treat their kids as afterthoughts -- ignored, unfed, and unloved. When the kids find an abandoned baby girl -- an Orphan with a capital "O" -- on their doorstep, their efforts to find a home for little "Ruth" spark a terrific idea. What if they can become orphans themselves? And so, after the kids make a quick trip to a travel store and revise an enticing brochure, Father and Mother are off on an extended world tour, with some comic peril. The kids joyously celebrate their freedom until the cheapest nanny their parents could find shows up. Nanny Linda (Maya Rudolph) is as unexpected as her arrival. Horrified at first, the Willoughby kids soon learn that this nanny makes a very creative ally. Teaming up with Linda, that pesky little orphan baby, and a very quirky candy maker (Terry Crews), Tim, Jane, and Barnabys A and B fend off the return of Father and Mother Willoughby and find out what "family" really means.
Is it any good?
A wonderfully whimsical tale with dark themes is softened by warmth, humor, and stellar performances by talented comic actors who brighten the already inventive and luminous animation. Ricky Gervais's "Cat" narration sets the tone from the opening moments. His comic snark tells us exactly where the film is going and he never lets the audience down. With The Willoughbys, Netflix has stepped up its Original animated feature game (from Bron Studios). Highly recommended for families who love to laugh together.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the slapstick violence in The Willoughbys. How do filmmakers let their audiences know that the action scenes aren't to be taken seriously? How does your family decide which movies are right for the kids in your house?
How do the bright colors, spirited music, and comedy (both slapstick and witty) balance the darkness of the movie's plot elements (abandoned children, isolation, uncaring social services)?
Why is it important for kids to be old enough to understand the humor in this film? How might someone too young or too sensitive be upset by the story?
- On DVD or streaming: April 22, 2020
- Cast: Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Alessia Cara
- Director: Kris Pearn
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 92 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: rude humor and some thematic elements
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: March 19, 2021
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