The Other Side of Animation 184: The Willoughbys Review


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Something I’m noticing that I would argue started back in 2015 with the release of Blue Sky’s The Peanuts Movie film, is the fact that bigger studios are starting to slowly move into being more experimental and creative with the visuals and usage of CGI animation. While I think CGI animation gets a bad rep due to how overwhelming it is, and I, of course, would love to see more 2D animated features from the bigger studios, getting more ambitious with CGI visuals is a good direction to go into. Think about it, we had the already mentioned The Peanuts MovieCaptain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, 2018 gave us Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Disney/Pixar are doing more creative visuals in their shorts. We also have this year’s Connected from Sony Pictures Animation, and I think that’s pretty healthy. I have said in the past that studios and films need to have their distinct flavor and look, and the major studios are only now catching on what the indie/foreign scene has been doing for the better half of a decade or more. Unless the execution is off, I don’t see why more studios can’t experiment a little more. Heck, that’s why I adored Netflix’s newest animated feature, The Willoughbys.

Directed by Kris Pearn, co-directed by Rob Lodermeier, and written by both Kris Pearn and Mark Stanleigh, The Willoughbys is yet another film on Netflix’s streak of original animated projects! It’s produced and animated by Bron Animation, the same studio that did the unfortunately disappointing Henchmen film. So, how did Netflix’s next step into animation go? I say grow your beefiest mustache and let’s get to it!


The story follows the four Willoughby children, Tim, voiced by Will Forte, Jane, voiced by Alessia Cara, and Barnaby A and Barnaby B, voiced by Sean Cullens. They are part of a famous family with a prolific legacy of adventurers, inventors, and so on. Unfortunately, the Willoughby children are the kids to the current Willoughby adults, Father, voiced by Martin Short, and Mother, voiced by Jane Krakowski. The two adults are neglectful of their kids to the point that when the children find an abandoned baby, they get kicked out of the house. The children then come up with a plan to “orphan” themselves by getting rid of their parents. They send the terrible duo on an epic adventure that has multiple areas that may result in them six feet underground. Along the way, the children will encounter other adult individuals, like Linda the nanny, voiced by Maya Rudolph, and the candymaker Commander Melanoff, voiced by Terry Crews. Can the children get rid of their parents? Or will they find their true family elsewhere?


Let’s cut to the chase, and talk about the first thing that stands out about this film, the animation. For those that are curious, it’s using CGI, but everything is crafted and animated like it’s stop-motion. I know some have an issue with this for some unknown reason, but to me, it’s smart for CGI animation to start experimenting with how they tackle visuals. A lot of animation fans complain about how most CGI films look the same, so why not go out of your way to look distinct? It has a style that makes it stand out, and it looks gorgeous. There are so so many bright colors and fantastic designs that make the world the film takes place in pop. You can even see it in the trailer that the colors are vibrant, and it might be very candy-coated colors, but man, do I love it. They even match the snappy stop-motion movements of the style it’s imitating. It looks good and while it is fast-paced, the humor and movements are not fast enough to be missed or are too overbearing.


Now, as for the story, while this film is not meant to be taken seriously, it does balance out the quirk with the more serious themes that it’s tackling. Sure, the major moral of the film is that family is what you make of it, and it’s a nice theme, but the film doesn’t excuse the fact that the parents in the film, while dialed to 11, are awful. Unlike most films, this one doesn’t try to redeem or sideline the parents. They are terrible, and the film constantly paints them in a negative light. Martin Short and Jane Krakowski do put in some very funny performances, but they are incredibly neglectful of the kids in the film. Luckily, the rest of the characters constantly mention it. The kids themselves also have great chemistry and distinct personalities that feel fairly grounded. Yes, this world is wacky and colorful, but you get why the kids act as they do. I know they are mostly played by adults, but for a comedy like this to work, I don’t know if I would run the risk of using child actors. Plus, the cast works well off of one another. Will Forte, Sean Cullen, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Terry Crews, Maya Rudolph, and Alessia Cara all put in charming performances. However, I will say that the film’s marketing is a touch misleading, as the main character is not Jane. In fact, the main character of the film, and who gets the most fulfilling character arc is Tim.


For as much as I adore this dark comedy family feature, I have three issues with the film. The first criticism I have is that the absurd elements sometimes clash with the pacing of the more traditional story bits. Not in a distracting way, but it’s noticeable when the film has to halt the breaks on the absurdity for the story to hit certain beats. It’s not that the more story-focused beats are bad, but they are just story bits that you have seen before. The second issue I have is with the original song and the placement of it. I get that Netflix wants to get a chance to be nominated for an original song at something like the Oscars and such, but it felt like it was somewhat forced into the last third of the film. I bring this up because the film, as I have mentioned, does market Jane as the lead when she is not, and while the song is pretty solid, it was distracting. It’s a double-edged sword for the film, since you know why it’s there but still may not care for it. Finally, I did not like Ricky Gervais as the cat narrator. Yes, the cat does have a few great lines, but I think Gervais was miscast, and I do mean that without also admitting that I do not like him as a comedian or actor. The cat needed to be played by someone else, as I was thinking of maybe someone like Matt Lucas or Eddie Izzard. The character needed someone with a bit more energy and goodwill associated with them.


While rough around the edges in some areas, The Willoughbys is a new Netflix hit that I think everyone should check out. I understand, if respectfully disagree, with some of the more negative reviews of the film, but I get why this film might not be for everyone. It’s a film that’s abstract and out there, and you are either for it or not. I simply hope one day, Netflix puts this film on Blu-ray alongside their other original animated features, so I can own them physically. So, we shall now move on from quirky family film to a film based on a video game that’s unintentionally a backdoor pilot for sequels. That’s right, next time, we are going to look at Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge.

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Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation #10: Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return Review

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The absolute worst sin a movie can do is a combination of two things. The first part of the sin is not enveloping you in the film’s world. We watch movies to escape reality and to be enveloped/entertained by the story and the characters in front of us. The second part of this sin is wasting the time of the viewer. No one wants to go into a theater, buy a ticket, obtain some overpriced snacks, sit down for the movie, and walk out thinking “that was a waste of my time and money.”  Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is a prime example of said sins. I can’t just sum it up in one review. I mean, I can and will, but let’s start with a little history about the movie. This film was developed by Summertime Entertainment, and an animation studio in India called Prana Studios. Prana is a studio that gets a lot of outsourcing work from Disney to make those straight-to-DVD Tinker Bell films. Legends of Oz supposedly cost $70 million, which was the most expensive film that the outsourcing animated studio had ever worked on. Apparently the entire budget was all from multiple investors that were either from big companies or from fundraising. I read somewhere that over 150K people invested in this film. Legends of Oz was released into theaters in France on February 2013 and in the states May of 2014. Want to know how this film did? Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return has the most eligible title of the biggest box office bomb of 2014. Not only that, but it also has the comfy 9th place spot in worst worldwide openings. It is also known as one of the biggest box office flops for a CGI animated film, only raking in a little over $3 million on opening weekend and an overall total of $18 million, but again, this film had a budget of $70 million. I mean, if you have the title for the one of worst opening weekends for a CGI animated film, you are a very special case of awful. The little cherry on this cake of failure is that some of the investors and producers of the film are being charged with some kind of financial fraud. It’s just a lovely and horrific trainwreck of everyone involved. Even the producer, Greg Centineo, and the many investors think there was a conspiracy to make this film a failure in the box office. Marketing was pulled from everywhere you can think of, and many theaters took it out of their lists of movies being shown. Or, you know, the investors and the producer of the film could have admitted to the making of a horrible movie and scammed the heck out of everyone. This was one of the hardest disasters to sit through that I have ever had to see. Let’s dive in to the 10th review of The Other Side of Animation: Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return. Oh, and possible spoilers for the movie.

The story apparently takes place right after the 1939 live-action classic. Dorothy, voiced by Glee star Lea Michele is helping her family and town repair the buildings after the tornado incident. Then, out of nowhere and I mean that literally, an appraiser, voiced by Martin Short, comes into town claiming that he owns everything in the small town. Apparently everyone in Kansas is fine with this man who comes out of nowhere, has rather questionable credentials, and don’t follow up with any questions about him or where he comes from. Yeah, if I have to start breaking down the logic in the opening of the movie, you have some serious problems. Anyway, back in Oz, where apparently years have passed, everything is watched over by Scarecrow, voiced by Dan Aykroyd, Lion, voiced by Jim Belushi, and Tin Man, voiced by Kelsey Grammer. However, a new villain named The Jester, also voiced by Martin Short, decides to wreck everything and become the ruler of Oz. Before getting caught, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion get in contact with Dorothy, and bring her back to help save the land of Oz. Along her journey, she meets a very fat owl named Wiser, voiced by Oliver Platt, a candy soldier named Marshal Mallow, voiced by Hannibal’s Hugh Dancy, a princess made of China, voiced by Smash’s Megan Hilty, and a large tree voiced by Patrick Stewart. Can they save the land from The Jester? Can they point out how stupid this movie is so I don’t have to?

As of this point in this review, I have nothing positive for the film, which results in me having to talk about the bad things! There is plenty, and I mean plenty of negative things to say about this movie. It’s like going to a buffet. You pay the price and have all you can criticize! Let’s start with the tone of the movie since it’s all over the place, more than a drunk guy attempting to throw darts at a dartboard. First off, this film is supposed to take place during the 30s during the great depression era. Well then, why do the opening credits have toy planes and a skateboard that are obviously not from that period in time? Why do the cars and clothes everyone wears look like something from I Love Lucy? Why does the film have so many unintentionally creepy moments? Why does it sound like the film is trying to ride the wave of Frozen’s popularity, when it has nothing to do with that movie? You see? When you can’t get into a movie, you start picking it apart! You can’t focus or feel invested in the story because the logic, characters, and story are horribly put together. For example, we know The Jester, who currently has the most powerful magic in the Land of Oz, now has immense magical power, and he says that before he got all the delicious magical power, he couldn’t take the curse off himself. Well, once he got the power, why didn’t he take the curse off himself? He has the power to do anything! The Jester has the time to change the signs from “Do Not Eat the Candy” to “Please Eat the Candy”, but not enough time to take the curse off himself?!  Don’t get me started on some of the inconsistencies of the film from the original classic. Like there is this scene later on in the film where they need to build a boat, and Dorothy just rips a limb off a tree. Um, does she not remember the last time she tried to pick something off a tree in Oz? Why would she think it would work the second time around? Did she just forget about it?! The trees even make a reference to this happening in the past.

I can’t move onto the rest of the review without talking about how creepy this film can be at times. The moment when Dorothy gets transported to Oz by a rainbow shaped like a hand is not whimsical, because she is terrified out of her wits to get caught by it. At another point back at the scene where they need to build a tree, they run into Patrick Stewart’s character that I remind you, is a talking tree, who basically tells Dorothy that she can use him for the materials for the boat. That is like an old person coming up to us and being fine with us gutting him, cutting off his limbs, and turning him into a go kart. Another scene that oozes something out of an episode of Criminal Minds or Hannibal is the where the China Princess is broken, and Mallow, the candy knight guy, uses pieces of himself to mend her back together. It’s not really romantic or touching, since that is like me ripping off my own skin to fix another’s arm that got blown off.

The characters are just terrible. Dorothy, going from the innocent wide-eyed bystander of everything, is now a boring plain female hero. Wiser, the overweight owl says he is, well, wise and knows many things like not to eat the candy (since he was arrested a total of 499 times for eating the candy), but then thinks it’s okay, because he doesn’t notice the signs have oddly changed all of a sudden. Wouldn’t he be more curious as to why the signs changed, rather than stuffing his face for the 500th time? Did nothing in that little feathered brain of his notice something off-putting? The other characters are either boring, like Marshal Mallow, or very unlikable, like the Dainty China Princess. The Dainty China Princess is nothing more than an individual who gets off on liking a person for their looks, and has literally done more damage to her people than anything The Jester could ever do. She basically straight-up murders some minor characters. The romance between Mallow and the China Princess has no point. They don’t really talk to one another or bond. They also made the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man have these weird character traits, like the Scarecrow is super smart, the Lion is like a college frat boy, and the Tin Man is overly emotional to the point of being annoying.

The animation quality is your standard straight-to-DVD/TV quality CGI, which makes more sense since the film was apparently supposed to originally have gone straight to DVD. Legend of Oz had no reason to go into theaters when it had to deal with films like Big Hero 6, How to Train your Dragon 2, and The Book of Life in 2014’s high quality animation department. It’s funny to see how many movies think they can match Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks animation, but come out looking like made-for-TV-grade CGI films. The music by Bryan Adams is terrible; some of the worst music I have ever heard. I know he has done some good music, like for that one Dreamworks film, Spirits, but still. This movie had no reason to include music. I know the original classic The Wizard of Oz had music, but it was well written and, you know, good! The voicework is mediocre. No one besides Martin Short puts in a good performance. Even then, I have seen Martin Short do so much better in live-action and animated films.

So, do I like anything about this movie? Well, besides that this is a good movie for a very bad movie night, I guess I like how colorful it is, but I really don’t have anything nice to say about this movie. I will also give Martin Short credit for making the only funny line in the movie, when we actually see him talking to Glenda.

It’s funny how this film fails in about every way possible. It’s even worse when you realize the two directors, Will Finn and Daniel St. Pierre, have worked on films like Disney’s Tarzan, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Dreamworks’ The Road to El Dorado. Sure, it is mostly animation credits, but after working on films that know how to be good, it seems like you would gain the experience to know what the heck you are doing! You can tell that, of those 150K or so of people that invested in this film, they are not happy since it became well-known that people online were giving this film great reviews and positive word-of-mouth whereas the people that actually saw the movie say otherwise. Essentially, the investors/backers tried to manipulate the user scores to make the film look better. It’s basically what happened with how Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas went down, or how terrible indie developers on Steam get positive reviews from their friends lists for their games, when they really aren’t that good. Until I see otherwise, this is the worst movie I have seen and had to review on The Other Side of the Animation. Sure, it might have more effort in it than something like Food Fight, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good movie. I feel badly for any poor unfortunate soul who went ahead and made their choice to help fund this movie. It deserved to have stayed out of the mass public eye, and you shouldn’t have to waste your time in watching this movie. Avoid this movie at all costs, and go out and get the original The Wizard of Oz or Return to Oz, or heck, buy both! Boy, I don’t think I have gotten so upset about a movie in a while. How about we review our first Japanese-animated film with Memories? Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: The Worst