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Review: Animated 'Willoughbys' a delightful, inventive tale

Netflix movie features voices of Ricky Gervais, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph and more

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The Willoughbys are not your average family. 

And "The Willoughbys" is not your average animated family comedy. It's surprising in its aversion to cookie-cutter plotting and boundlessly creative in both its visuals and its storytelling. This is a movie with style, smarts, personality and pizzazz, and it's one of the most inventive animated films in memory.  

A scene from "The Willoughbys."

A cat voiced by the acerbic Ricky Gervais narrates the tale, so you know you're not in for the blinding pep of, say, "Trolls World Tour."

Gervais' kitty introduces us to the Willoughby family: Martin Short and Jane Krakowski voice the parents, a pair of self-absorbed twits who couldn't give a rip about their four kids, Tim (voice of Will Forte), Jane (Alessia Cara) and their twin boys, both named Barnaby (Seán Cullen).

Things are so bad that the kids long to be orphans, and get their wish by sending their parents off on a fake vacation, orchestrated by Tim. He sends his parents a brochure from a made-up company, the Reprehensible Travel Agency, and off they go to see the world. 

But it's not long before a nanny (Maya Rudolph) shows up to care for them, effectively raining on their freedom parade. The kids hatch a plan to lose her as well, as they're too scarred by bad parenting to recognize her intentions are genuine. 

"The Willoughbys" zigs and zags through a plot that involves an orphaned baby, a Willy Wonka-like candy tycoon (Terry Crews voices Commander Melanoff) and an open house that's rigged with more booby traps than the McCallister household in "Home Alone." 

It never goes for the easy hug that most children's stories twist themselves in knots to get; in fact, it avoids it like it's poison. That it earns its happy ending is a testament to the strength of co-writer and director Kris Pearn's ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2") script and direction. The Willoughbys, both the movie and the family, sneak up on you in the most welcome of ways. 

'The Willoughbys'

GRADE: A-

Rated PG: for rude humor and some thematic elements

Running time: 92 minutes

On Netflix 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama