Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with host Bill Carroll to talk the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the Netflix animated movie “The Willoughbys,” the Netflix doc “Circus of Books,” the high school crime drama “Selah and the Spades” and a pair of big screen movies coming to VOD, “Bad Boys for Life” and “Run This Town.”
Based on a book by Lois Lowry, “The Willoughbys,” a new animated film now available on Netflix, is a parody of “old fashioned” classic children’s stories where terrible things happen, babies are abandoned, long-lost relatives show up and nannies look after the kids. Yet somehow, a happy ending and a lesson or two always emerge from the chaos.
Narrated by Ricky Gervais—”I’m the narrator. And a cat. Get over it, yeah.”—the story takes place at the Willoughby mansion, a home tucked away between two skyscrapers, hidden from the modern world. The family has a long and distinguished legacy of tradition, invention creativity and courage. “Their greatness passed down from generation to generation like their magnificent facial hair,” says the narrator, “until this one.” Enter the youngest son (Martin Short) and his new bride (Jane Krakowski). Madly in love, they only have eyes for one another. They don’t even care for their kids. “I am your father and that woman in there you insulted with your rude burp is your mother,” father says to eldest son Tim (Will Forte). “If you need love, I beg of you, find it elsewhere. Thank you.”
All they gave Tim was their name, and siblings Jane (Alessia Cara) and twins, both named Barnaby (Sean Cullen). “Let’s face it this Willoughby family isn’t great,” says the narrator, “and by the looks of it, they never will be. Not without a little help.”
So the kids hatch a plan to create a better life for themselves. “We can send them away!” says Tim. “What if we orphaned ourselves? We shall craft a murderous adventure that gives our insidious parents exactly what they want.” “To be left alone with their love!” says Jane.
Tim concocts a “a romantic get-a-way hiding deadly orphaning opportunities. If they do not melt in the hottest places on earth, they shall drown in the wettest. Cannibals will feast on them unless they freeze in glacial ice.” They create a travel brochure from the Reprehensible Travel Agency—No Children Allowed!—and make sure the folks see it. They love the plan but fear the children will destroy the house. The solution? Get a nanny. “But aren’t good nannies expensive?” wonders mom. “Yes, so we’ll hire a not good nanny! For cheap!” says father.
Thus, begins a wild adventure for mom, dad and the kids.
“The Willoughbys” It’s not as dark as “A Series of Unfortunate Events” or as magical as “Mary Poppins.” Instead it finds its own tone, deriving much humour from the dire circumstances. “If you like stories about families that stick together and love each other through thick and thin,” says the cat narrator, “and it all ends up happily ever after, this isn’t the film for you OK?” Director and co-writer Kris “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” Pearn energizes the story with characters that look like they’re shaped out of bubble gum; colourful and highly stylized. Then he puts them in constant motion. It’s frenetic and fun, even when the kids are plotting to kill their parents.
There’s strong voice work from Will Forte, Alessia Cara, Jane Krakowski, Martin Short and Terry Crews but Gervais and his droll narration steals the show. “It’s hard to leave home for the first time,” he says, “although I was six days old when I left. All my folks ever did for me was lick my eyeballs open and sent me packing.”
“The Willoughbys” isn’t remarkably original story wise. It mixes and matches from a variety of sources. There’s a taste of Roald Dahl, a hint of “Despicable Me” and a dollop of “Mary Poppins,” but, all spun together, they form a delightfully dark (but not too dark) story about finding the true value of family.
Richard sits in on the CJAD Montreal morning show with host Andrew Carter to talk about the weekend’s VOD and streaming releases including the Netflix animated film for kids (and their parents) “The Willoughbys” and the documentary “Circus of Books.”
Richard joins CP24 anchor Nathan Downer to have a look at the weekend’s new movies including strange and beautiful period drama, “The Favourite,” the critic’s favourite “Roma,” the zombie musical “Anna and the Apocalypse,” the animated “Henchmen” and the documentary “Almost Almost Famous.”
Every now and again when I’m at the movies a deep-rooted feeling of ennui sneals up me. That, “What the heck am I doing wasting my time watching ‘insert title here?’ It has only swept over me a handful of times usually in what I call Seatbelt Movies, films so uninspired I need a seatbelt to keep me from fleeing the theatre.
That familiar creeping feeling came over me during a recent screening of “Henchmen,” a new superhero animated film starring the voices of James Marsden, Rosario Dawson, Alfred Molina, Jane Krakowski and Rob Riggle. I stayed, trapped by professional duty to make it to the end credits, but it tested my patience in ways few other movies have.
“Silicon Valley’s” Thomas Middleditch is Lester a self described comic book nerd and orphan. On his sixteenth birthday he auditions at the Union of Evil—“The best of the worst!”—only to be assigned Henchman Third Class. A janitor. His dream of one day making his super villain persona, The Orphan,” a reality will have to wait. He’s assigned to Hank (Marsden), a disgraced former First Class henchman (he was too nice a guy to be bad), now pushing a mop. On a visit to the Vault of Villainy Lester accidentally winds up wearing an old super villain suit. Taking advantage of Lester’s newfound powers Hank sees a way to change his life. Using Lester’s ray gun hands he tries to free a chip of What-ifium—a substance that can change the past—from a giant crystal block. Before he can go back in time mega-baddie Baron Blackout (Alfred Molina), who put me in the mind of Kate McKinnon’s Jeff Sessions impersonation, asserts his intention to take over Super Villain City. Will the What-ifium save the world and make all their dreams come true?
There’s more—a team of superheroes called the Friendly Force Five, and a goopy gangster called Gluttonator who wants to use radioactive cheese to bring his foes to their knees and shouts “What the feta??!!” when his plan goes south—but why prolong this any more than I have to?
Set to a soundtrack of sound-alike classic rock songs “Henchmen” is about as imaginative as you can expect from a movie where all the criminals live in a place called Super Villain City. From the uninspired voice work to animation that looks like next wave cheapo Hanna-Barbera style animation without any of the organic charm, “Henchmen” is little more than a collection of cartoon clichés. Very small children might find distraction in the colourful design or the bullet proof underpants or the ‘Bad guys always lose’ moral but all others beware.
I took no joy in writing this review but then again I could find no joy in “Henchmen” either.