Netflix sure is stepping up their game when it comes to animated originals. THE WILLOUGHBYS is a fantastic, fun, original, yet weird kids movie that premiered back on the service in April, yet I didn’t hear about it until a recent visit to a friends place in Oklahoma for the weekend. I saw the release date was 2020, and following a recommendation from those friends’ kids that weekend, I decided to check it out. Boy am I glad I did. I’m glad I also waited to watch it with my young son and my wife, because we got to enjoy it together as a family. It’s based on the book by the famous Lois Lowry (I have never heard of this till now, who knew, right?!) and per IMDB it describes the film as: “Convinced they’d be better off raising themselves, the Willoughby children hatch a sneaky plan to send their selfish parents on vacation. The siblings then embark on their own high-flying adventure to find the true meaning of family.” And the whole story is fast paced loveliness with a dash of weird. It has colorful characters, morals about family that don’t try to hit you over the head with the messages, nice original animation that wasn’t trying to rip off anyone else’s work, and fantastic voice work from everyone involved, including, but not limited to: Ricky Gervais, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Terry Crews, Maya Rudolph, Alessia Cara (with a wonderful singing voice as well), and Will Forte (who really needed this, as his portrayal of Shaggy in the disappointing Scoob! just recently released seemed to be trying a bit too hard). This and Onward are the only two memorable animated films of the year so far.
This might only be a 2 paragraph review, as I don’t really want to spoil any of the surprises this film has in store for you and yours. Just know that other than the ending, this families predicament is far from predictable. Some wacky shit happens, some really cute shit happens, some dark shit happens, people are accidentally killed (well, if you see certain scenes from my eyes they did), tears will be shed, and smiles will be spread from cheek to cheek. This 2nd time director, Kris Pearn, whose first effort was Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2, is not a newbie to the animation world, as he worked in the animation departments for a ton of projects like Arthur Christmas, Open Season, and the very underrated Titan A.E. He and his crew do wonderful work here, as this is a film I can see revisiting with my family over and over and over again. After this and Klaus at the end of last year, Netflix really has something going on correctly with their animation productions. Why can’t they take that positive momentum and apply it to the original film department? Or hell, even what they choose to buy from other studios to put on their platform? Needless to say, I’ll always be weary with a new live-action Netflix original. However, I’ll be eager to press the play button if a new release from them is animated.