The Willoughbys

Posted on April 22, 2020 at 4:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 20, 2020
Copyright 2020 Netflix

There are oh so many stories for children about orphans and about people who are sent to live in creepy, mysterious old houses. The Willoughbys, based on the book by Lois Lowry, tweaks those and some of the other conventions of children’s stories, and turns some of them upside down. But one key element remains the same: children have an adventure. They are brave, they solve problems, they stick together, and they end up better off than they started. And all of that happens in a movie that is a a delight for the eyes, with wildly imaginative settings and clever details. There’s even a candy factory that’s half Willy Wonka and half Pac-Man.

Deliciously gruesome (but not quite as much as A Series of Unfortunate Events), it is the story of four red-headed siblings who live in a gothic mansion squeezed between skyscrapers, with acid narration from a nearby cat (Rickey Gervais).

The Willoughbys have lived there for generations and their history hangs heavily over them. Literally. There are huge portraits of ancestors, all sporting the thick yarn hair scowling down at today’s Willoughbys.

Also scowling, when they bother to notice them, are the Willoughby parents (Martin Short and Jane Krakowski), who devote all of their affection and attention to each other and can barely be bothered to notice that they have children, much less talk to them or feed them. The oldest is Tim (Will Forte, who worked with director Kris Pearns on “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2”). Then there’s his sister Jane who loves to sing (Canadian pop star Alessia Cara). By the time the twin boys were born, the Willoughby parents couldn’t be bothered to think of two names or provide them with two sweaters. So they are both called Barnaby and share one sweater between them.

In a conventional story of an intolerable home, you might expect the children to run away. But this is a story that likes to turn things upside down. Tim likes the house and is determined to uphold the grandeur he associates with the ancestors and the Willoughby name.  He and Jane come up with an idea: their parents should run away from home. So they arrange an extended trip for their parents, a trip that just might include some dangerous activities.

What they don’t expect is that their parents might send a nanny (Maya Rudolph, delightfully whacky).  Never having been treated with kindness, Tim does not trust her at first. Also, there is an orphan baby left on their front stoop. The children drop her off at a candy factory run by a a man who looks a little foreboding but also like he’s made of candy named Commander Melanoff (Terry Crews).

And so the Willoughby children end up going on an adventure that is colorful,  funny, exciting, and satisfyingly heartwarming. The government’s child protective services are unnecessarily demonized but the message of resilience that we can create the families we want if nature gets it wrong the first time is very welcome.

Parents should know that this movie includes comic peril and violence (no one hurt) and humorously portrayed child neglect and abandonment themes.

Family discussion:  How do Tim and Jane have different ideas about the way to solve their problems? Did you ever misunderstand someone’s words as Tim did with the nanny?

If you like this, try: “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”

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Animation Based on a book Family Issues Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews VOD and Streaming

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Posted on September 29, 2013 at 11:33 pm

cloudy2Who would have guessed that the brightest and funniest and most heartwarming animated film of the year would not be from Pixar or Disney but Sony?  And that to boot it would be a sequel, or, perhaps given the subject matter, a second helping?  “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” is a fresh and charming delight especially welcome after a series of animated disappointments.

There’s a quick recap of  the first episode, very loosely based on the 1970’s children’s book classic.  We are reminded that would-be inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), who lives in Chewandswallow, created a machine called the “Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator” (FLDSMDFR for short) that turned water into food. But things got out of hand and the town was deluged with food until he saved the day by turning it off.  Flint’s scientific idol, Chester V (Will Forte), has invited Flint and his friends to California while they clean up Chewandswallow.  Like Flint, Chester has a simian sidekick.  Flint has the monosyllabic monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris).  Chester has put a human brain inside the brain of an orangutan named Barbara (“Like a terducken!” she says brightly), voiced by Kristen Schaal.  Barb has an exquisite manicure and hairdo and a firm insistence on not being called a monkey.  She is an ape.

At first, Flint is hesitant to put on hold his plans to create a lab on the island for his friends, especially meteorologist Sam Sparks (Anna Faris).  But Sam knows what it means to Flint to get a chance to work with Chester, so she encourages him to put the plans for the lab on hold.  Sam, Flint’s fisherman dad Tim (James Caan), the Chewandswallow police chief (Terry Crews), and their goofy friend Brent (Andy Samberg), all move to California and Flint goes to work in a facility that looks like a tweaked version of the Googleplex with coffee always within reach and caffeine patches on request.

But then it turns out that the FLDSMDFR is somehow working more damage than ever, now producing weird combinations of food and animals — foodimals — with hilariously preposterous visual and verbal puns.  There’s the shrimpanzee, the hippotatosaurus, the susheep, and the taco-dile, along with other delicious mash-ups.  Chester sends Flint to shut it down, swearing him to secrecy, but Flint tells Sam and ends up taking the whole gang back to Chewandswallow with him.  A few mild quibbles — it would be nie in a movie about scientists to have some actual science used in the problem-solving.  And after a movie in which adorable marshmallows and strawberries and even cheeseburgers are cavort so endearingly, parents may find it even more difficult to persuade picky eaters and tenderhearted types to eat their dinners.

But there’s a very sweet storyline about the importance of friends — having friends and being a good friend, and a nice aspirational moral about making the world better — and the pure silly fun of a group of animators outdoing each other with escalating puns that range from the outlandish to the almost-but-not-quite unforgivable.  Not once, but twice, there are jokes about a leek in the boat, and it is funny both times.  Lines of dialogue lie “piece of cake,” “we’re toast,” and “this is bananas” are punctuated with visual counterpoint.  And a bright “New” song by Paul McCartney gives the soundtrack as much sunshiney as the adorable creatures and cheery humor.

Parents should know that this movie has some mild potty humor and comic/cartoon-style peril, most shown to be not scary.

Family discussion:  Why was it important for Flint to apologize?  How was he affected by being bullied?  What does Barb learn about Chester?  Which one of Flint’s inventions would you like to try?  Do you have an idea that could change the world?

If you like this, try: the first film, the book, and “Megamind”

 

 

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3D Animation Based on a book Comedy Fantasy For the Whole Family Series/Sequel

MacGruber

Posted on September 7, 2010 at 8:13 am

A one-joke “Saturday Night Live” skit based on a television series that ended in 1992 has been turned into a no-joke movie that ended 99 painful minutes after it began. It is of interest only to people who think that 80’s references like mullet haircuts, Blaupunkt removable automobile cassette players, soft rock, and many many many potty jokes are always hilarious.
“MacGyver” was a television series about a secret agent who could take a gum wrapper and a bottle of nail polish remover and make it into some very clever device to defeat any threat from any enemy, no matter how high-tech. The series emphasized problem-solving and science over weapons. And now the little boys who grew up watching MacGyver think it is hilarious to trash him by making him into an arrogant idiot.
The SNL skits invariably and tediously show MacGruber (co-writer Will Forte) trying to defuse some bomb with household items only to fail and have it blow everyone up. The movie draws not just from the skits but from a range of 80’s action film conventions. MacGruber is a one-time action hero who has retired to a life of spiritual contemplation after his bride (Maya Rudolph) was murdered at their wedding. He gets a visit from Colonel James Faith (a steely Powers Boothe) and Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe), asking him to return to service to go after a bad guy played by a beefy and ponytailed Val Kilmer whose character name happens to sound like an extremely crude term for the female anatomy.
MacGruber swings like a pendulum between grandiose self-aggrandizement and humiliating self-abasement. Both are excruciating. He rounds up a team of very big men (played by WWE stars) but accidentally blows them to smithereens so has to work with Piper and his late wife’s best friend Vicky St. Elmo (Get it? Another 80’s reference!), played by the divine Kristen Wiig, who is the movie’s only bright spot. Even the blue eyeshadow and feathered blonde hair can’t hide her brilliance and beauty.
Those for whom the 80’s were not epochal will be bored when they are not being grossed out. Or both at the same time. On the other hand, those who find the idea of a man sticking a stalk of celery in his butt and walking around with his pants off so hilarious that they want to see it twice will be delighted.

(more…)

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Action/Adventure Based on a television show Comedy
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