The Other Side of Animation 184: The Willoughbys Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 94: My Life as a Zucchini Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

I am very fortunate with my family life. My family is pretty healthy, we have a good life, I am close to everyone, and I wouldn’t want to trade it for the world. Sometimes, it’s good to remember how fortunate you are, if you have a good family situation. Not everyone can get that, and I can’t even begin to understand or imagine myself growing up in a broken home, or as an orphan. I’m never going to relate to it, and I’m not going to try and act like I can. I think that is what’s interesting about today’s review of My Life as a Zucchini. This is a stop-motion animated film from last year, that was directed by Claude Barras, and was distributed here in the states by the always-amazing GKids. It picked up a lot of critical acclaim and award nominations. While only 60 minutes long, you would be amazed at how mature this film can be.

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The story revolves around a young boy named Zucchini. He does have a real name, but he would rather be called Zucchini. After the death of his mother, he is brought to an orphanage by a police officer named Raymond, voiced by Nick Offerman. While there, he befriends the other kids who live there, and gets to learn a bit more about each of them as time goes on. One day though, a young girl moves into the orphanage named Camille, and changes Zucchini’s life.

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So, what’s so amazing for a movie that’s no longer than an episode of Game of Thrones? Well, there is a lot to love about this little movie. It has a laid-back atmosphere, and while the kids can get rowdy, and there are some dramatic moments, the movie is very quiet. It lets the kids be the main focus. It’s definitely a smaller story and is not epic or sweeping, but it doesn’t mean it sacrifices quality storytelling. You get little details, like how Zucchini keeps the memory of his parents in the form of a beer can and a kite, or how while not told specifically what happened to one of the girls, her gestures and outward mood says everything. It’s a film that tackles what these kids probably feel like being parentless. The world is scary, and they don’t really trust anyone, or feel like there is any real hope outside the orphanage. I don’t blame them. The film knows really well how to balance the darker themes of unconditional love, family, being alone, with more positive moments of finding a way to help each other stay optimistic. You get to learn a bit about these kids as the film goes on, and they act like real kids. You know how you watch a family movie or a movie in general where kids are a focus? You know how rare it is to find child characters or child actors who are actually good? In My Life as a Zucchini, they act and talk like little kids. Even how they interact with the adults feels genuine.

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The animation is just beautiful. The stop-motion movements are all gorgeously handled, and while having some interesting designs, they find ways to make the movements fluid, and expressive. The voice work is probably one of GKids’ best dubs. Not only because of the celebrities that they hired, like Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Will Forte, and Amy Sedaris, but the child actors for the English dub do a perfect job. One of the charms of the film is that they had all child characters in the original dub sit in one room to make the interactions with one another realistic. I’m sure trying to work on a dub to do such a thing would be very daunting for child actors who may not have a lot of experience voice acting, but they found a way. The music reminds me of a lazy Sunday afternoon, with a more indie tone to the background music when it pops up.

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If I had to really complain about something, the film probably could have been longer to maybe 80 minutes instead of 60. I loved every moment, and the film does use that time wisely, but I would have liked to have spent some more time during certain areas. Sometimes, there is a comment that doesn’t land, but in general, the run-time is my only major complaint.

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I really loved watching this movie, and if you saw my Worst to Best of 2016, you saw that it was my 4th favorite movie of the year. It’s deceptive in how mature and quiet the film, considering it stars a bunch of kids, and it does a great job tackling what an orphan feels like, along with the sad reality that some children grow up in broken households. I’m happy this film got so much love with the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. If you haven’t seen this movie, then you should. I want to keep this “theme” of family going, as next time, we will review Wolf Children. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials