The Willoughbys

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Willoughbys
The Willoughbys Theatrical release poster.jpg
Official release poster
Directed byKris Pearn
Screenplay by
  • Kris Pearn
  • Mark Stanleigh
Story byKris Pearn
Based onThe Willoughbys
by Lois Lowry
Produced by
  • Brenda Gilbert
  • Luke Carroll
Narrated byRicky Gervais
CinematographySebastian Brodin
Edited by
Music byMark Mothersbaugh
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
  • April 22, 2020 (2020-04-22)
Running time
92 minutes
  • Canada
  • United States

The Willoughbys is a 2020 computer-animated comedy film directed by Kris Pearn and co-directed by Rob Lodermeier.[1] Based on the book of the same name by Lois Lowry, the film's screenplay was written by Pearn and Mark Stanleigh, and stars the voices of Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Alessia Cara, Terry Crews, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Seán Cullen, and Ricky Gervais, who also narrates the film and follows four kids (including the twins) trying to find new parents to replace their self-centered and neglecting ones.

The Willoughbys was released on Netflix on April 22, 2020 with 37 million people viewing the movie. The film received critical acclaim upon its release, praising its animation, acting, story, and soundtrack by Mark Mothersbaugh, as well as praising Cara's song, "I Choose".[2] The film has received six Annie Award nominations, including Best Animated Feature.


A blue cat narrates the story of the Willoughby siblings: Tim, Jane, and twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B. Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, are obsessively enamored with each other, neglecting and emotionally abusing the children as a result.

After discovering an orphaned baby, Jane takes her in. When she wreaks havoc in the living room, the Willoughby parents throw their children out of the house, forbidding them to return unless they get rid of the baby. They leave the baby, who Tim names "Ruth", on the doorstep of Commander Melanoff's candy factory, believing it to be a suitable home. On their way home, the siblings hatch a plan to improve their lives by orphaning themselves and getting rid of their parents. The siblings put together vacation brochure full of deadly destinations that could potentially kill their parents.

Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, excited by the brochure, leave immediately, leaving the siblings in the care of a nanny Linda. Linda proves to be much warmer and more caring than their parents, and Jane and the Barnabys warm up to her almost immediately; Tim, however, remains distrustful towards her. When Linda learns about Ruth, she rushes to the candy factory with the children in tow. Melanoff explains that he originally intended to hand the baby over to the Department of Orphan Services, but quickly grew attached; Linda is assured that Ruth will be well cared for in the factory.

Meanwhile, the Willoughby parents have somehow survived all the hazardous places they’ve visited, but soon discover have they’ve run out of money. Unwilling to return home, they decide to sell their house in order to further finance their vacation. They inform Nanny and demand she figure out what to do with the children on her own.

Tim, still distrustful of Linda, steals her cell phone and finds out about his parents’ message. Tim, believing Linda to have ill intentions, calls Orphan Services. The Willoughby siblings then frighten away the house’s potential buyers. When Linda helps the children by scaring off the last family, Tim finally realizes how much she cares for them. However, Orphan Services arrive, responding to Tim’s call. Heartbroken by Tim’s betrayal, Linda leaves in tears, and the other Willoughby siblings renounce him.

The siblings are taken away and Jane and the Barnabys are taken to separate foster homes. Tim, meanwhile, repeatedly runs away from his well-meaning foster families and is eventually detained in a cell at Orphan Services Headquarters. The Cat encourages Linda to return to the children by giving her Tim’s helmet. Disguised as a janitor, Linda sneaks in, reconciles with Tim, and breaks him out. Linda retrieves and reunites the other Willoughbys, with whom Tim makes amends.

The Willoughbys realize they can get Orphan Services off their backs is if they have their parents. With the help of Linda, Ruth and Melanoff, the Willoughbys build a dirigible to rescue them from the "Unclimbable Alps,"their final destination. The siblings decide to use the dirigible too early, leaving the adults and Ruth behind. As they reach their destination, they follow a trail of their mother's yarn to the top of the mountain, where they find their parents nearly frozen to death. The siblings and the Cat save them. The children confess that they sent them away but hope to reunite as a family. However, their parents prove to be as selfish as always, stealing the dirigible and abandoning the children. However, not knowing how to steer the dirigible, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby eventually crash into the ocean.

With no way to get down, the siblings prepare to succumb to the cold as Jane sings for them. Thankfully, Ruth, Melanoff and Linda, having followed the dirigible, find them before they freeze to death. Now officially orphans, the Willoughbys are adopted by Linda and Melanoff, living much happier lives in Melanoff's candy factory with them, Ruth, and the Cat. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby have survived the dirigible crash and are stranded at sea; whereupon they are eaten by a shark.

Voice cast[edit]

  • Will Forte as Tim Willoughby, the protagonist of the film, he is the oldest and rational son of the Willoughbys.
  • Maya Rudolph as Linda a.k.a. The Nanny, an eccentric babysitter who looks after the kids. She is also revealed to be an orphan.
  • Alessia Cara as Jane Willoughby, the cheerful middle child of the Willoughbys with a passion for singing.
  • Terry Crews as Commander Melanoff, the joyous, but lonely owner of a candy factory.
  • Martin Short as Walter "Father" Willoughby, the Willoughby's abusive father with a hobby of ships in bottles.
  • Jane Krakowski as Helga "Mother" Willoughby, the Willoughby's abusive mother with a hobby of knitting.
  • Seán Cullen as Barnaby A and Barnaby B Willoughby, the "creepy" twin boys and youngest children of the Willoughbys.
  • Ricky Gervais as The Cat, a talking blue tabby cat, and the narrator of the film.
  • Colleen Wheeler as Orphan Service Agent Alice Vernakov.
  • Nancy Robinson as Irene Holmes.
  • Kris Pearn as Spoons McGee.


In November 2015, Bron Studios acquired the animated film rights to Lois Lowry's book The Willoughbys, and hired Kris Pearn to adapt it into a screenplay with Adam Wood to direct the film, with Aaron L. Gilbert and Luke Carroll producing.[3] In April 2017, Ricky Gervais was cast in the film to play the narrator as well as one of the characters and it was reported that Pearn would co-direct the film with Cory Evans.[4] The screenplay however was replaced by Pearn and Mark Stanleigh with a story by Pearn who also executive produced the film. In June 2017, the cast was expanded to include, Terry Crews, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, and Seán Cullen.[5] Will Forte and Alessia Cara (in her first animated role) also provided their voices, with Netflix set to distribute the film.[6]

The film was produced at the Bron Animation studio in Burnaby, British Columbia.[6] The characters in the film were designed by character designer Craig Kellman, who designed characters for DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar and Sony Pictures Animation’s Hotel Transylvania, as well as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Addams Family.[citation needed]

The music in the film was composed and conducted by Mark Mothersbaugh, who previously worked with Pearn on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.[7] The original song "I Choose" (performed by Alessia Cara, who plays the voice of Jane in the film) was released independently by Def Jam Recordings.[8]


The film was digitally released on April 22, 2020 by Netflix.[9] It was viewed at least in-part by 37 million households over its first month of release.[10]


Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 91% based on 64 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "An appealing animated adventure whose silliness is anchored in genuine emotion, The Willoughbys offers fanciful fun the entire family can enjoy."[11] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 14 critics, indicating a "generally favorable reviews".[12]

Renee Schonfeld of Common Sense Media, gave the film four stars out of five, noting that the film is a "wonderfully whimsical tale with dark themes is softened by warmth, humor, and stellar performances by talented comic actors who brighten the already inventive and luminous animation."[13] The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney said that "the Netflix animated family comedy-adventure has an oddball charm that works surprisingly well."[14] Natalia Winkelman of The New York Times said that the film "is charming on a moment-to-moment basis. Running gags, like how Tim triggers a car pileup whenever he crosses the street, help to round out an unruly world. The composer Mark Mothersbaugh contributes a jazzy score and original song (performed by Cara) that punctuate the giddy mood. Though it tends to feel disjointed as a whole, 'The Willoughbys' thrives when it embraces its grim plot and lets mischief reign."[15]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Critics' Choice Super Awards January 10, 2021 Best Animated Movie The Willoughbys Nominated [16]
Best Voice Actor In An Animated Movie Will Forte Nominated
Martin Short Nominated
Terry Crews Nominated
Best Voice Actress In An Animated Movie Maya Rudolph Nominated
Best Villain in a Movie Martin Short and Jane Krakowski Nominated
Visual Effects Society Awards April 6, 2021 Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature Helén Ahlberg, Kyle McQueen, Russell Smith, Raehyeon Kim Nominated [17]
Annie Awards April 16, 2021 Best Animated Feature Kris Pearn Nominated [18]
Editorial in an Animated Feature Production Catherine Apple, Anna Wolitzky and Dave Suther Nominated
Outstanding Achievement for Character Animation in an Animated Feature Production Andrés Bedate Martin Nominated
Outstanding Achievement for Music in an Animated Feature Production Mark Mothersbaugh, Alessia Cara, Jon Levine, Colton Fisher Nominated
Outstanding Achievement for Character Design in an Animated Feature Production Craig Kellman Nominated
Outstanding Achievement for Production Design in an Animated Feature Production Kyle McQueen Nominated


  1. ^ Pearn, Kris; Evans, Cory; Lodermeier, Rob (22 April 2020). "The Willoughbys". IMDB. BRON Studios, Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit (CPTC), Creative Wealth Media Finance.
  2. ^ "The Willoughbys - BRON Studios". Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  3. ^ Kay, Jeremy (November 8, 2015). "Bron Animation to adapt 'The Willoughbys'". Screen. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  4. ^ Giardina, Carolyn (April 13, 2017). "Ricky Gervais to Narrate Animated Feature 'The Willoughbys'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  5. ^ McNary, Dave (June 2, 2017). "Martin Short, Maya Rudolph Join Ricky Gervais in Animated Film 'Willoughbys'". Variety. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Ramos, Dino-Ray (November 6, 2018). "Netflix Unveils 'The Willoughbys', 'Maya And The Three', & More In Animated Slate". Deadline. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  7. ^ "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 - Nu Metro". Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  8. ^ "Spotify - I Choose (From The Netflix Original Film The Willoughbys)". Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  9. ^ "The Willoughbys - BRON Studios". Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  10. ^ Brueggemann, Tom (May 25, 2020). "'The Lovebirds' Is Netflix's Number-One Movie, 'Scoob!' Leads VOD Charts". IndieWire. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  11. ^ "The Willoughbys (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 30, 2021.
  12. ^ "The Willoughbys Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  13. ^ "The Willoughbys Movie Review - Common Sense Media". 21 April 2020. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  14. ^ "'The Willoughbys': Film Review - Hollywood Reporter". 23 April 2020. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  15. ^ Winkelman, Natalia (22 April 2020). "'The Willoughbys' Review: Parental Guidance Ejected - The New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  16. ^ Yang, Rachel (2020-11-19). "Critics Choice Super Awardss". Critic's Choice Association. Archived from the original on November 25, 2020. Retrieved 2020-11-19.
  17. ^ Pederson, Erik (March 2, 2021). "VES Awards Nominations: 'Tenet', 'Midnight Sky', 'Extraction', 'Soul' & 'Mandalorian' Among Titles In Visual Effects Hunt". Deadline. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  18. ^ "2021 Annie Award Nominations: 'Soul,' 'Wolfwalkers' and Netflix Lead". Variety. 3 March 2021. Archived from the original on March 4, 2021. Retrieved 3 March 2021.

External links[edit]