The Willoughbys Parent Guide
Not even brightly colored animation can make child abuse and neglect funny.
Parent Movie Review
Whether or not you will enjoy The Willoughbys depends entirely on your enjoyment of very dark humor. I have always enjoyed quirky films but this one goes too far for me. Frankly, I just can’t laugh at a movie that is centered around the abuse and neglect of children.
Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby (voiced by Martin Short and Jane Krakowski) are wrapped up in one another, kissing and gazing at each other constantly. Mr. Willoughby even allows his wife to use his moustache hair as yarn for her interminable knitting projects. When Mrs. Willoughby gives birth to Tim (voiced by Will Forte), the couple are appalled. The new father dumps his infant son in the hallway, berates him for his birth and tells him, “If you need love, I beg of you, find it elsewhere”. Their attitude does not change with the birth of three more children – a musical daughter named Jane (Alessia Cara) and inventive twins, both named Barnaby (Seán Cullen). The children are ignored, starved, and thrown into the coal bin whenever they disturb the adults’ romantic idyll. Not surprisingly, the children decide they would be better off without parents and figure out a plan to “craft a murderous adventure” so they can “orphan themselves”.
If the plot doesn’t give parents cause for concern, there are plenty of events in the movie that will. It is difficult to overstate the cruelty with which the Willoughby parents treat their children. Hearing a mother tell her hungry children “We eat today’s food. You eat yesterday’s food.” makes my skin crawl. Watching as the parents insist the children “get rid of” a baby found on their doorstep is also appalling. Listening to the children plead with their parents, “You don’t have to love us, but will you be our parents again?” breaks my heart. And I find it unbearably chilling when the kids come to their parents’ rescue, only to have their parents abandon them to certain death. There’s nothing funny here.
Despite the toxic parents, there are a few (very few) positive elements in the film. The Willoughby siblings love each other and have close, nurturing bonds. They are a great example of siblings working together in times of crisis – although plotting the disappearance of their parents might not be something most of us would find praiseworthy. Their love and unity makes it all the more painful when the children are separated by “Orphan Services”. This is definitely a movie that makes viewers appreciate the need all children have for stable, loving families.
There are undoubtedly viewers who will point out that I am taking this too seriously and the violence is all tongue-in-cheek. It is true that animated movies often go over the top with silly aggressive or perilous content. (We all remember the constant danger faced by Wile E. Coyote in his hilariously doomed pursuit of the Road Runner.) But most animated movies are funny despite their cartoonish violence because we know the mayhem is make believe. Sadly, The Willoughbys isn’t funny because we know that similar scenes of abuse and neglect are playing out in the real lives of children in our communities. And there’s no laughter to be found in that.Directed by Kris Pearn, Cory Evans, Rob Lodermeier. Starring Will Forte, Martin Short, Alessia Cara. Running time: 92 minutes. Theatrical release April 22, 2020. Updated April 22, 2020
Watch the trailer for The Willoughbys
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Willoughbys rated PG? The Willoughbys is rated PG by the MPAA
Violence: There are repeated scenes of parental abuse and neglect of children. Children are starved. Children don’t have enough warm clothing. Children are thrown into the coal bin for days on end. There is mention of a beast and half-eaten kids. A baby falls into a fireplace but emerges unharmed. Parents talk about wishing they could kick their kids out. There are multiple scenes of reckless driving with resulting car crashes. Children jaywalk, causing car accidents. Children discuss ways to get rid of their parents. There are multiple images of ways parents could die. A dried lobster explodes into dust. Boys build a catapult and plan to launch someone. Another person is accidentally launched from it. A baby is caught on an assembly line in a candy factory. A baby vomits a glowing rainbow. A person is implied to have died on a volcano. A man falls off a raft and is apparently devoured by piranhas. A couple barely avoids being stampeded by a rhinoceros. People are given severe electrical shocks from a charged doorknob. Children booby-trap a house so people are punched in the head, ejected through windows, hit by a stuffed bear, and fall through floors. A person pretends to be a monster – flame-like lighting makes this potentially frightening. Children are forcibly separated from one another. A house is demolished. A main character steals a car and damages it in her getaway.
Sexual Content: A married couple kiss frequently. There is some minor sexual innuendo. Two men are briefly mentioned as a couple. A man is briefly seen in his underwear.
Profanity: None noted. Parents say cruel things to their children on a regular basis.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults are shown drinking wine with dinner.
Page last updated April 22, 2020
The Willoughbys Parents' Guide
If you are aware of children who are suffering from abuse or neglect, here are some resources to help identify the problem and get help.
Helpguide: Child Abuse and Neglect
In the US and Canada: Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline
In Great Britain: Supportline
Why do the children decide to “orphan themselves”? Do you think they could have considered other solutions to their problems?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
This movie is based on by a novel by Lois Lowry, The Willoughbys. It also has a sequel, The Willoughbys Return.
Readers who enjoy dark adventure stories can try Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. It begins with #1: The Bad Beginning.
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The Willoughbys shares a dark sensibility with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, in which three orphans are pursued for their fortune by a wicked relative.
In Brave, the daughter of a Scottish chief rebels against her mother’s rules and expectations, only to discover that her magical wish has turned her mother into a bear. Now she has to make it right.
Onward tells the story of two brothers who work together to spend one day with their father who died many years before.
Three siblings have a magical adventure far from home in Peter Pan.