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film review

The Willoughbys is a highly stylized animated feature from Canadian writer/director Kris Pearn.Courtesy of Netflix

  • The Willoughbys
  • Directed by Kris Pearn
  • Written by Kris Pearn and Mark Stanleigh
  • Featuring the voices of Will Forte, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph and Ricky Gervias
  • Classification PG; 92 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

When the four Willoughby children are abandoned by their selfish parents, they must learn how to adapt their old-fashioned values to the contemporary world.Courtesy of Netflix

Chances are that, by the point you’re reading this, you are starved for quality entertainment to distract your children so you can answer one little e-mail-okay-please-Timmy-just-give-me-one-minute-of-peace! Anyway. If your kids – and more likely, you – are tired of listening to Frozen 2 on a loop in the background, you could do far, far worse than Netflix’s new animated offering, The Willoughbys. In fact, you might not be able to do better, given that most families have already cycled through the entire offering of every streaming service’s animated catalogue.

Based on the book by prolific young-adult author Lois Lowry, The Willoughbys is equal parts Lemony Snicket, Addams Family, Wes Anderson, Saturday Night Live and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. That latter film’s whacked-out influence makes sense here, given that the new film is directed by Canadian Kris Pearn, who helmed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, and it stars the voice of one of that franchise’s performers, Will Forte.

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Vancouver's BRON Animation studio provides a strong sense of flair to the visuals.Courtesy of Netflix

The increasingly busy Forte, SNL’s former resident weirdo, delivers a welcome sense of deadpan weight to Pearn’s new production, which focuses on a quartet of young children, who – saddled with rich, selfish and perversely child-averse parents (Martin Short and Jane Krakowski) – concoct a scheme to send their mother and father on a vacation that will never end. What follows is a series of zany mishaps involving an eccentric babysitter (Forte’s one-time SNL cast mate Maya Rudolph), an even-more-eccentric candy store owner (Terry Crews) and a sardonic cat (Ricky Gervais, just here for the paycheque please and thanks).

Parents might get more of a kick out of the voice casting and darker corners of the story than school-aged children. But Vancouver’s BRON Animation studio provides a strong, often beguiling sense of tyke-hypnotizing flair to the visuals, and the zippy, synthy score by Wes Anderson-favourite Mark Mothersbaugh should keep kids bouncing up and down, in a good way. Who knows, it might even nudge your grade-schooler toward the Blu-ray of The Royal Tenenbaums that you have sitting on your shelf. (Okay, maybe that’s just my shelf.) Either way, you’ll want this on repeat in the background far more than anything involving the word “Olaf.”

The Willoughbys is available to stream on Netflix starting April 22

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