The Willoughbys Review: A unique and whimsical dark-themed movie about love and family

​If you are looking for a different movie that you and your kids would watch then Netflix’s The Willoughbys might just be the one you are looking for. I said “just might be” as this movie is the unconventional type that needs strong parental guidance so the interpretation of what is happening could be explained to children. It is a movie about kids, parents, love, and family told in a very different and atypical way. So, if you are planning to make your child or children watch this alongside you then it is completely fine, but if not, then I suggest otherwise, you should definitely opt for other movies and watch this at a later date when you’re available. 

The movie is intended for kids and younger audiences and they would surely get morals out of it but some parts might be misinterpreted so parents should be beside them while watching it. It has good lessons but the delivery of it is somewhat reminiscent of reverse psychology and young audiences might find it hard and thus fail to get that so, it is strongly advised that children while watching this movie should be in the company of their guardians or parents. 

​The Willoughbys is a movie that lacks your typical happy environment, there is less singing, less dancing, etc. This is not the average and typical fluffy kid movie that is full of happy moments. Sure, there are lots of vibrant colors, an “ancestral house” that possesses several magnificent decorations, some hyped characters (a pack of adorable kids, a funny nanny, a baby orphan that is almost alien-like in speed, and a factory owner that loves candies) but they come short of having many happy moments.

Though the storytelling and value embedding is atypical in approach, the film could still end up as a movie that kids and parents would love. The morals are great if properly explained, the humor, jokes, and banters are equally appealing to all ages, the animation and graphics are also superb, the setting is likewise magnificent (the house is full of “antiques” and somewhat like those houses in grand mansions in other kid’s movies). Aside from these the creative designs of the characters are so adorable especially their fixation with the mustache (I find it fascinating and amusing). 

The characteristics mentioned set Netflix’s The Willoughbys apart from other kid’s movies. Is this bad? No, this uniqueness is the defining characteristic of the movie, and this helps the movie stand out and more unforgettable. So, if you and your kids are bored and can’t go out because of the pandemic, or you want to pass time with them then better sit with them in your living room and watch this unique and atypical movie unfold. 

The story

​The film tells an unconventional tale of a life-affirming adventure of four children as they seek familial love through purposely orphaning themselves. It revolves around the life and struggle of the Willoughby children named Tim (Will Forte), Jane (Alessia Cara), and the twins both named Barnaby (later Barnaby A and Barnaby B) (voiced by Sean Cullen). 

The four though living in a house with their parents do not feel that they have parents at all. Their mean and eccentric father and mother (voiced by Martin Short and Jane Krakowski, respectively) who does a lot of weird things like copying some animalistic sound and using body hair as yarn in knitting do not care for them at all. Though the two love each other deeply, the love does not extend to their children thus, ending up with the four kids feeling unloved, abandoned, and neglected. 

​The four belong to the house Willoughby, a name associated with greatness, intelligence, heroism, groundbreaking, and game-changing discoveries, etc. Through the years, the house produced scientists, explorers, leaders, etc., until it came to an unplanned, unnecessary, unwelcomed end through a stupid and selfish man together with his equally despicable wife. The two hated children but ended up producing the four protagonists of the film.

​The feelings of neglect coupled with the desire to bring back the lost dignity and honor of the house Willoughby prompted the children to embark on a path that was unusual for children. They planned to get rid of their parents by planning a travel adventure and vacation that the two did not resist. 

The following events gave a new experience to the four and these culminated in a series of things they weren’t expecting like meeting  Linda, a nanny who has a cheerful disposition that is enough to make for her lack of experience with children, and the intimidating commander Melanoff who surprisingly has a sweet spot (maybe because of his love for candies) or having a new diet in the form of oatmeal which is a leap from eating leftover foods (a healthier and well-rounded meals could have been better). This series of things and events would make the four kids understand the true meaning of love and family, that sometimes people do not get what they want but on a positive note they get what they need. 


​Netflix’s The Willoughbys is based on Lois Lowry’s “The Willoughbys” which is formed in a grim tradition of stories of orphans, porridge, poverty, escaping unhappy homes, etclike those of Oliver Twist and James and the Giant Peach. 

The Willoughbys is a film that is different from its peers. It is not Pixar-ish with regards to the animation nor Disney-like with regards to the stories and set, nonetheless, it has its own magic and charm that is more than enough to make it engaging and stand out.

The unique charm of the film could be credited to the wonderful and magnificent people who worked behind the camera. The film was directed by Kris Pearn together with co-directors Cory Evans and Rob Lodermeier. The cinematography on the other hand was handled by Sebastian Brodin and the character design by Craig Kellman. Aside from the “technical” people, the voice actors should be equally credited for making the film a success. The voice by the characters was emotional and very character-like without arousing the perennial problem of “overtrying” which makes characters have unlikable voices. 

The Critique

​The Willoughby is ONE OF A KIND. It is a testament to the ongoing development of Netflix, though it may seem far before they overtake Pixar and Disney in terms of overall quality, it is not impossible and there is a high chance for it. It proves that Netflix is capable of making animated films on par with the old names and mainstays. Why is this so? This is because animation-wise, the film is first-rate and highly imaginative. 

The set and visual design of the movie are great. The house, especially the paintings are fascinating and visually appealing, and quite comedic. The character design is also superb, I find their design cartoonish and friendly which is really suited for the young audience. Everything about the characters is a delight (design-wise), from the yarn-like hair and pink mustache, the thin legs, to the cupcakes and candy buttons of Commander Melanoff. 

The design of the characters made the story more fit with children though it harbors those quite dark punch lines. In addition, the film though having a somewhat dark theme is full of colors and vibrancy especially in the candy factory (children would love this because who hates candies?) of Commander Melanoff where the rainbow is “coming from” and the part where they created a flying vehicle out of the things in the factory with candies serving as its fuel (might be a dream come true for some), it’s just magnificently sparkly. 

The set and character design of the children was amazingly utilized in the film as it was used for visual gags and though it seems overreaching and too “hyped” in some scenes the presence (design, backstory, attitude) of some characters like Linda balanced it. The narrator (the tubby blue cat) and the sarcastic and conversational remarks also made the film lighter (the remarks helped a lot in transitions). 

Though the visuals were good, it dipped on some parts. The movie does not have that memorable soundtrack and I also find the dialogues a little bit “short”.  But the story makes up for these “unpalatable” aspects because in terms of story and story presentation the film right from the beginning is non-conformist as no one would usually not expect what transcended on it. It also broke some expectations and cliches and that is very great (I really thought the parents would end but until the end, they hold on to their despicable attitude and disposition) 

The film is very different from the usual kid movies we’ve grown used to. I find the approach of showing the negatives to realize the positives as somewhat short of being revolutionary and unheard but still unique as only a few utilized that method. 

There may be some sensitive contents (that are of concern) like the frequent kissing of the parents, violence, or the fact that they planned of getting rid of Father and Mother but, this is a great movie and these negative contents should not dislodge the fact that the overall message is good and the negatives are the ways of the movie to strengthen this message. This complexity might be too much to some kids but some would be able to grasp it and to make sure that they would really understand it the parents or any adult should be with them while watching this movie so that they could explain the negatives aspects of the film. 

In addition, despite the dark humor and somewhat dark theme, the film is surprisingly sweet. Aside from the candies, the film is about family and though the parents of the kids neglected them and are missing in action, the kids particularly Tim did not fail in celebrating and hoping for the same family ties the Willoughbys of the past had. The film emphasized the strong family ties enjoyed by their mustached ancestors that the kids wanted them and they got it, not in the form that they wanted but in the form that they needed. 

Lessons and Message

​I’ve mentioned reverse psychology quite a few times and the message is the reason for that. The film gives some emotional and philosophical lessons that are reenforcing, timely, and timeless. The children plotted to get rid of their parents because they feel unloved which gives the parents the lesson that they should always make their children feel loved. The love and care would not be to the point of pampering them, but the healthy love and care that would let them feel that they are part of a family, like spending time with them doing activities, or giving them healthy foods instead of leftovers. 

​It also gave the lesson that hate is a decision since the children despite the cruelty and maltreatment of their parents still chose to rescue them (though part of the reason is to no longer become orphans and risk being separated from each other), this showed love is forgiving.

​The film also gives philosophical lessons that touch the heart as that living in a house with a family does not make it home because a home is only a home if the people living inside love each other. And that being lonely does not mean being alone as there would always be people willing to make you happy. 

​Lastly, it teaches people of the beauty of adoption, that adoption gives unloved children the chance to feel love, care, and belongingness. It sends the message that family does not need to be by blood, it could be by the decision because sometimes the best family are those who chose to become part of their lives, that people might not get the kind of love they want but surely, by time, they would get the kind of love they need and deserve. 


​The Willoughbys is a whimsical dark-themed movie that gives a “message of light”, an irony that was created by a well-plotted storyline compounded with amazing graphics and animations. Its approach may be different thus needing more parental guidance but, that peculiarity made it stand out and thus, a must-watch for those looking for something different. 

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