With Klaus and I Lost My Body receiving Oscar nominations last year Netflix established itself as a big player in the future animation game. The next big feature animated offering is The Willoughbys a story about four children who decide to orphan themselves to escape their cartoonishly evil parents. Think the darker side of Roald Dahl crossed with A Series of Unfortunate Events with a little splash of The Addams Family. How does Netflix latest big animation turn out.
You know when you are watching a film thats solid but with some tweaking you can see a version buried somewhere within the final product that could be fantastic. That was me watching The Willoughby’s. There are things to absolutely love in in the film. Despite being rendered in CG the animation is simply stunning with a gorgeous handcrafted look that really mimics the effect the best stop-motion productions. The Addams Family was mentioned earlier but the fact that there sub-par direct to video looking animated feature got a theatrical release and this as one of the most visually impressive animations I’ve seen in recent memory gets palmed off to Netflix is something indicative of the animation industry. The scripts macabre sense of humour will appeal to a large chuck of the audience (including me) but it doesn’t really have its own identity beyond its very clear influences. The take on these influences are executed well enough so it’s not a huge problem but in order to go from good to the great and deliver material worthy of the animation quality the script needed a few more drafts to craft its own identity.
The voice work is solid across the board with one notable exception. Regardless of how you feel about his rhetoric Ricky Gervaiss narration is the family cat comes across like peak DreamWorks mid 2000s celebrity stunt casting in which a large parade of celebrities would turn up for name recognition and a paycheck. There are any number of great vocal performances which mostly use the actors natural voice but in these cases the vocal delivery fits with the characters and universe (Jason Ritter In Gravity Falls, Alison Brie in The LEGO Movie, Holly Hunter in The Incredibles franchise etc.) Here Gervais delivers the narration in his standard dry disinterested monotone that just does not fit it with the quirky macabre sense of humour. Recast the role with someone more fitting and the narration would be much more effective, Despite its problems I really encourage animation fans to check out The Willoughby’s. It’s nowhere near as good as something like Into The Spider-Verse or even Klaus. That said it continues to be refreshing seeing animated productions that do have things that will appeal to the target audience of kids and adults but at its core these are very creative driven and artistic productions without the need to delve into pretentious