Film Critic Antonio Aguila finds Netflix animation The Willoughbys to be a pleasing distraction – if not much else besides
Four siblings, Tim, Jane and the Barnaby twins, after parental neglect venture out in the world in search of adventure. In their search they find an orphan, which gives them a great idea: why not become orphans themselves? The Willoughbys is a fun, warm animation about the bond that matters most: family – as well as conspiring to kill your neglectful parents. Behind the beautiful, luminous visuals and quirky, giddy humour, the film finds a way to disguise its darker, more grim themes with a satirical take on a family film. The wicked parents are comical and there is an intimacy between the lonely children which makes the film. Also, Ricky Gervais narrates the story through the role of a Cheshire cat-like character. Although the film’s clichés and cheesiness are at times in excess that is very forgivable since the film succeeds with its youthful charm and its capturing of childhood’s playfulness.
The lighting takes inspiration from Klaus. Even though already a 3-dimensional film the volumetric lighting helps deepen the sense of space, and the colour palette changes in accordance with the scene’s mood. Something as simple as this goes a long way in terms of effect as settings, characters and events are coated and soaked with colour coded emotions, like the past orange glow and present depressing bluish grey scenes of Little Women. Through The Willoughbys the siblings begin with lost grey frames, then finds innocent, flourishing moments of white for when their parents aren’t around, after fiery yellow for both a warm and lonely feeling, pale blue for anticipation, and, of course, pink for love. Elsewhere through the glowing, enigmatic eyes of Ricky Gervais’ cat, and the misty glow of the mansion and streetlamps illuminating the city like rays of moonlight, the lighting gives the film a warm embrace. Paired with the cinematography, lighting does find its moment of neglect, isolation and hecticness, but overall, the aesthetic looks simply warm and brilliant. In spite of the Willoughbys’ parents’ misdeeds, the main tone the movie casts is the intimacy between the Willoughby siblings.
In terms of voice acting, overall the film is solid. Ricky Gervais effuses a beastly yowl, while the tormenting parents tonally do not seem tormenting with their comedic screams, and the rest of the cast are light and fun. Ricky Gervais narrates the story with his typical wit and humour that are at times overdone, but a nice progression to the story. Alessia Cara, in particular, does a great job with a moving song about who we choose to love at the movie’s emotional climax. Having said that, one does get the feeling that she was held back so as to not overshadow our less likeable protagonist. Alessia Cara has produced some great songs like ‘Scars to Your Beautiful’ and ‘How Far I’ll Go’ for Moana, so it is a shame the producers would not make full use of her vocal talent. Next, the music is a jazz inspired score that helps create a beat throughout the movie that complements the rhythmic storyboarding. The storyboard leaves enough time to awe at the impressive, detailed backgrounds which seem to burst with life: even something as simple as the Willoughby library looks great and is utilised as great visual storytelling. Traversing a wide variety of locations from candy factories to snowy mountains, our quirky set of siblings deal with their infatuations of moustaches and catapults, fend off vicious real estate agents, make bonds with an eccentric nanny and build a candy blimp that spews rainbow steam in a nice, simple, cliché plotline executed well. There is also some nice childish slapstick.
The Willoughbys is a warm, visual delight. It is cheesy and cliché in a good way and to a certain extent experimental. At the end of the day it is nothing special because it is mostly a typical children’s film. However, at the same time, it is special as like many other successful children’s films it captures the youthful charm and playfulness characteristic of childhood, perhaps a little more macabre than your typical children’s film. For something nice and warm to relax to in the midst of a pandemic, The Willoughbys satisfies that requirement or for anyone who loves children’s films leisurely.
The Willoughbys is now streaming on Netflix.
Imagery courtesy of Netflix. All rights reserved.
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