Netflix's The Willoughbys Movie Is Quirky Story About Neglected Children
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Review: The Willoughbys Is A Quirky Story About Neglected Children That’s Still Funny

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BY May 17, 2020

Netflix’s The Willoughbys movie is the newest original animated film in the streaming giant’s lineup. The recently released movie is quirky and fun, featuring a cool cast and an innovative premise. The Willoughbys tickles all the right funny bones in all the right places for an enjoyable time. The humor is silly, odd, laugh out loud funny, and totally engaging. But at its core, the movie also deals with something that many movies, animated or otherwise, are afraid to fairly depict: terrible parents. 

Who Or What Is Netflix’s The Willoughbys Movie About? 

Netflixs The Willoughbys movie kids. Images via Netflix.

The Willoughbys is an extremely weird and fun Netflix original movie. The story comes from a book of the same name by Lois Lowry. The 2008 novel adaptation into this CG animated feature film that does not follow the typical plot is great, although the ultimate ending is pretty predictable. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, so long as the predictable ending is earned

The Willoughbys is a really dark movie about the titular family and their trials and tribulations along the way to personal acceptance. The story is about four kids and their utterly neglectful parents. The once-great Willoughby family’s current generation have become a love-sick couple who adore each other. Unfortunately, their love for each other leaves them with none for their children. I mentioned it’s a weird movie right? This premise seems heartbreaking, and at many times, it is. But it also allows for a story that’s rich in very real-world issues that are just as devastating. How these children deal with getting no love from their parents, in a loud and colorful way, is basically what Netflix’s The Willougbys movie is about. 

The Willoughbys Are About Making A Family Of Your Own

Netflixs The Willoughbys movie Rudolph and Crews Terry Crews & Maya Rudolph in The Willougbys | Images via Netflix.

The movie starts with narration by a local cat, voiced by Ricky Gervais. Gervais produces the movie as well. Gervais’ dry and witty narration goes great with the kids’ silly and upbeat demeanors. The story starts with the eldest child, Tim (Will Forte) and his attempts at trying to maintain a family atmosphere, despite their terrible parents. As a result of their negligence, the kids aren’t fed, don’t have new clothes, nor are they cared for in any manner whatsoever. Tim’s Sister Jane (Alessia Cara), has an artistic spirit and a soulful singing voice that is constantly suppressed by the parents. There are also a pair of twins named Barnaby A & B (Sean Cullen), whom the parents didn’t even bother naming individually. They also have to share one sweater between the two of them. While all of this is funny from an animated movie’s perspective, digging deeper, it’s actually pretty tragic. 

The Willoughbys’ parents, if not animated, would be right at home with the parents in Matilda, which is coincidentally getting it’s own Netflix series. Emotionally abusive, negligent, and shockingly indifferent to the lives of their children. The animated movie masks this outrage with a loud collar palette, hilarious kids and slapstick comedy. The silly and fun world takes away from the shockingly criminal situation that these children are in. But at the same time, The Willoughbys conveys a very powerful message. 

How Netflix’s The Willoughbys Movie Creates Substance Through Silliness

Netflixs The Willoughbys movie cast Behold! The no-parents plan! | Images via Netflix.

Most depictions in film and tv of ‘bad parents’ are very delicate. Serious takes on the bad parent trope are the result of addiction or other illnesses that make their behavior explainable. Not justifiable, but understandable. This gets trickier in media for children. The recent Shazam featured the main character of Billy Batson,  abandoned by his mother at a young age. That subplot was kind of glossed over in the movie, with an underwhelming confrontation scene. Disney’s forgotten animated time-travel movie, Meet The Robinsons featured a similar story where a young orphan traveled through time to find his birth mother who abandoned him. He ultimately was able to find a family of his own in the process. 

However, The Willoughbys doesn’t sugarcoat things. Therefore, the movie doesn’t brush aside the biological parents’ lack of good parenting by the silver lining of the kids finding better ones. The Willoughbys makes it very clear: the real parents are the villains in this movie. Not because they’re absent, have an addiction to each other, or are unable to care for their children due to extenuating circumstance. They just don’t care about their kids. So, the message is that sometimes, blood isn’t always best. It’s a wonderful message for those kids who are in situations where that may very much be the case. While most kids’ movies about troubled parental relationships see a happy ending with the parents changing, the reality isn’t always the case. And it’s wonderful to see a kids movie focus on that, while still providing its own happy ending. 

The Willoughbys Is Joyous, Loud, Obnoxious And Has A Lot Going For It

The movie is unlike your usual kids’ animated fare. As mentioned, the comedy is derived from some pretty terrible things. And it works, even if at times due to the total shock and outrage of it all. The movie still works as a zany dark comedy with some great light hearted moments. And the movie’s dramatic departures don’t weigh it down. The twins are hilarious as they share one piece of clothing for the entirety of the movie. Maya Rudolph as the kids’ impromptu nanny is just wonderful. Especially seeing how she is essentially a proxy for the audience in this movie, reacting to the terrible treatment of the kids just how you or I would. As a result, it’s her influence that allows the kids to want more from their life, and consider themselves as deserving of love. 

There’s also an amazing subplot with another orphaned baby and a Willy Wonka-inspired candy factor owner that is just another level of bonkers. Not to mention that The Wiilloughbys animation is also very unique. Everything from the character designs, their hair, to the crazy locales and outrageous color pallette is incredibly well thought out. It’s by no means boring to look at. While also not being crazy for the sake of crazy, with no substance to back it up. 

I highly recommend Netflix’s The Willoughbys for a kids’ movie that is different from most. Especially because it’s a family comedy that’s appropriate for all ages, with deeper messages beyond the surface that is also engaging for adults. 

The Willoughbys is currently streaming on Netflix. 

What did you think of Netflix’s The Willoughbys movie? Let us know in the comments below. 


Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at or on Twitter @theshahshahid.


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