3 out of 5 stars
Those who have navigated through A Series of Unfortunate Events book series by Daniel Handler will agree that this generation has a different view of the world. The adventures of the orphaned Baudelaire children ventures into dark and mysterious realms, unlike most stories within this literary genre. Netflix was able to capture the look and feel of these strange misadventures with relative precision and success. Which opened the door to similar projects for the younger viewers like Lois Lowry’s, The Willoughbys.
The tone of the computer-animated journey of these neglected, red-headed siblings is set by the narrative stylings of Ricky Gervais. As the family cat, he lays out the history and current atmosphere of the Willoughby household. Their long-standing family home is nestled in-between city skyscrapers. It represents a by-gone era of adventurous and beautifully moustached ancestors. Unfortunately, the current couple that bear the family name only have eyes for one another and no one else, even their own children. Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby (Martin Short, Jane Krakowski) spend their days pining over one another, spending the family fortune and leaving their four children to fend for themselves.
Tim (Will Forte), Jane (Alessia Cara) and their inventive, yet unusual twin brothers who are both named Barnaby (Sean Cullen) have to rely on one another for their survival. Until they come up with the idea to make themselves orphans by sending their parents on a perilous overseas holiday. Until they realise that their mother and father hired the exotic and inexperienced nanny, Linda (Maya Rudolph) to care for them. The children must figure out how to either work with this new caregiver or get her fired. While they hatch their plans for independence and ‘orphan-dom,’ the front doorbell rings and the small package left at the front door will irrevocably change their lives.
The initial response to this children’s adventure will be determined by the opinion of Gervais. He is a bit player and narrator, but his voice will either cause a small smirk on the faces of fans or an off-putting gurgle in the stomach in those who dislike the comedian. A feeling that is supported by the revulsion to the neglectful parents' treatment of their offspring. This is only changed by the eventual inclusion of Linda and the candy factory owner, Commander Melanoff (Terry Crews) who provide a glimmer of hope and light in this dire tale.
For those who are willing to endure the dark and depressing first act, there is a reward for your endurance. The life lesson of The Willoughbys has a surprisingly uplifting twist and becomes a light-hearted example of familial love. Toeing a line that is reminiscent of the Lemony Snicket series and the Despicable Me franchise, the dismal treatment of these ‘orphans’ does provide a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This is not a Disney adventure, but what should you expect with Ricky Gervais as the narrator? Yet, the film comes through in the end. Proving that there is value in the heart of a family, blended or otherwise.
REEL DIALOGUE: What does the Bible say about adoption?
There is nothing quite like the love of a parent. Even in the worst of experiences, the love, support and hug from your father or mother should have a soothing effect on your very existence.
The Willoughbys does provide a glimpse into the value of family, but at the heart of the story is the essential need for the love of parents. This relationship can come in the form of blood relations, a blended family or through adoption and shows that no price can be put on the importance of parents in the life of a child. Have you told your parents how much they mean to you today?
To redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4: 5-7