de facto film reviews 2.5 stars

Since certain events have forced us to stay at home, some of us may be spending more and more time with our parents. The global health crisis has, in some way, pushed some families closer together. With very little to do outside the home and some of us out of a job, we have more time to spend with the ones we love. Netflix’s newest animated film tackles the idea of this as one family confronts what that word truly means.

The film focuses on the Willoughby family. The bloodline is famous for being adventurous, exploring the greatest reaches of the world. That is, until the latest generation; who are so selfish and greedy that they keep to themselves in their fancy house while the world grows around them. They’re so in love with each other that they aren’t willing to give any love to their children, Tim (Will Forte), Jane (Alessia Cara) and the Barnaby twins (Seán Cullen).

After dealing with an orphaned baby they name Ruth, Jane believes that their lives would be much better if they, themselves, were orphans. Together, the siblings craft a deadly vacation that their parents can’t resist going on, especially with the promise of “no children allowed.” The result of this plan will send the children on an adventure that will teach them the true meaning of family, with the help of an under qualified yet kind-hearted nanny (Maya Rudolph).

This latest Netflix animated film is one brightly colored adventure. The Willoughbys is entertaining thanks to its absolutely stunning animation and winning voice cast. However, the movie itself leaves something to be desired. Under all that color is the potential to be a great and thought-provoking film. But in the end, it feels more like a passable diversion rather than something worth chewing on after the credits roll.

The animation is really one of the high points of the film. Every frame of this movie oozes color and style. The type of CG-animation used makes it look like whimsical stop-motion, very similar to the visual style of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Certain shots definitely invoke the same look and feel of their first film, the 2008 film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

This is also where some of the best visual gags come in. Everything in the world, from the people to the cars, look like they’re made of paper. The movie doesn’t waist a second in taking full advantage of this, as both of those are flung about like they are made of air. Some scenes depict a car flying through the air from a simple tap, or tons of them piling up like they weigh absolutely nothing. This garners some major laughs because of how absurd it looks.

The voice cast is also a high point. Will Forte and Maya Rudolph are among the best, with their particular talents really giving personality to their respective characters. Alessia Cara is also worth mentioning, as this is her first starring role in a movie, and she does relatively well. She gives the character of Jane Willoughby with the adventurous personality she was given by the writers.

Unfortunately, the film’s story is one of its biggest letdowns. The structure of the film is very odd. For example, what should have been the story’s act 2 climax happens very soon after the half-way point. The way the movie attempts to follow basic screenplay format makes certain aspects of the film feel simultaneously overstuffed and underdeveloped.

Sadly, the film seems more interested in reveling in its own absurdity rather than explore its complex themes. It attempts to tackle subjects like the effects of child neglect and what it means to be apart of a family. But most of the time, these aspects feel like mere jumping off points. This results in certain serious parts being treated more comedically, and comedic aspects are treated more seriously.

This means the movie suffers from a major tonal imbalance. Its embrace of absurd and macabre jokes from children’s stories of old is refreshing, but many of the visual gags that reference gruesome deaths come out of nowhere, and as a result are more off-putting than hilarious. By the end, you’re not really sure whether these points were meant to be thought-provoking, or just an excuse to laugh at the characters’ misfortunes.

The Willoughbys has some clever gags and is a visual wonder, boasting a brightly colored style that gives the film a very unique personality. It also features a wonderful voice cast that is more than up to the task of bringing this story to life. It’s just sad that the movie’s strange structure and inability to properly balance the comedic from the serious end up hampering the final product. It’s not really a bad film, but given the potential it had to be something truly profound, it’s certainly a disappointment.