The Willoughbys are a dysfunctional family with two horribly selfish parents – Mother (voice of Jane Krakowski) and Father (voice of Martin Short) – and four children – Tim (voice of Will Forte), Jane (Alessia Cara) and twins Barnaby A and B (voice of Sean Cullen).
Mr and Mrs Willoughby are so much in love and absorbed by each other that they don’t have any love or time left for their children and their ‘childish needs’. Tim learns from an early age not to seek love from Mother but to find it elsewhere. The children are neglected and punished for trivial things. Fed up with being neglected, maltreated and starved for love as well as food, the young Willoughbys hatch a plan to rid themselves of their self-centred parents and become orphans. The plan is to create a travel brochure to lure their parents away to foreign places. But the travel plan is full of deadly traps, devised with the hope the parents will never return.
Things don’t turn out exactly as planned when the children realise that their parents have organised a nanny for them. Nanny (voice of Maya Rudolph) is the cheapest the parents could find but she turns out to be very nice. Before discovering this, however, Tim advises Children’s Services that they have a bad nanny.
The children are separated and taken into care. Tim now has to devise a new plan to get his parents back so the children can be together again. But there’s a big problem: obliviously escaping every single death trap, Mother and Father are planning to sell the family home to finance more adventures, and Tim doesn’t know whether their parents will want to take the young Willoughbys back.
Child neglect and abuse; dysfunctional families; orphans; resilience; determination; making the best of your fate; the importance of family
The Willoughbys has a lot of slapstick violence. For example:
- Objects fall on the children.
- A baby called Ruth launches herself into Tim’s face.
- Tim nearly gets hit by cars and buses as he tries to cross the road.
- The twins make a ‘nanny cup’, which catapults Tim into the window.
- Tim throws oats at Nanny.
- Mother and Father escape dangerous situations like an erupting volcano and rhinos chasing them in the jungle.
- To stop their home from being sold, the children fit the house with traps so that potential buyers get electric shocks, get punched, fall through holes in the floor, or get catapulted out the window.
- Nanny hits Tom with a pillow. She ‘breaks him out’ of juvenile detention centre and throws him into a car. Tim hits his head on the roof. Cars follow after them and all smash into a gate. Nanny nearly smashes the car.
There’s also some other, non-slapstick, violence. For example:
- The Willoughby parents constantly tell their children what a nuisance they are, ignore them, forget their names, lock them in the coal cellar and so on.
- Father bashes Tim on the head and kicks him into the coal bin.
- Father yells at the children in anger.
- The children fantasise about their parents having a fatal accident on their trip, like getting eaten by sharks, being captured by cannibals, being attacked by bears, falling into a volcano, or freezing to death. The parents escape all of these traps, but other people get hurt. At the very end, it looks like the parents actually die in a shark attack.
- Ruth nearly falls into a furnace before Nanny catches her just in time.
The Willoughbys has some sexual references. For example:
- Mother and Father constantly kiss, hug and call each other suggestive names like ‘musty buns’.
- There is a play on words about ‘Mother’s balls’, which refers to her knitting yarn.
- Tim’s birth is portrayed indirectly. Mr and Mrs Willoughby’s distant chatter is interrupted by a ‘splattering’ sound, and then Mr Willoughby throws the newborn baby out of the room, telling him how he has insulted his mother with ‘his rude birth’.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Nudity and sexual activity
The Willoughbys has some coarse language, including ‘shut up’, ‘blimey’, ‘screwed up’ and ‘Darn it!’ There’s also some name-calling, like ‘ball burner’ and ‘idiots’.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Based on Lois Lowry’s novel of the same title, The Willoughbys is a very dark animated comedy.
The Willoughbys is narrated by a cat (Ricky Gervais) and has a fast-paced plot with crude jokes and comments that are clearly aimed at adults rather than at children. It has some positive messages and some slapstick humour, but its themes are dark and disturbing.
Therefore, this movie isn’t suitable for children under 8 years. We recommend parental guidance for children aged 8-12 years, because it’s important that children don’t take this movie literally. Also, older children might need help to understand the movie’s dark humour and exaggeration. This movie is best suited to teenagers and older viewers.
These are the main messages from this movie:
- Despite adversity the human spirit can remain strong, smart, resilient, hopeful and creative.
- Everyone needs and deserves love.
- It’s important to keep an open mind and heart.
- It’s important to chase your dreams and fight for what you deserve.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include determination, resilience, compassion, teamwork, family, love and acceptance, sibling unity, imagination and hope.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues like:
- being selfish and mean
- judging people before you get to know them
- creative problem-solving – how else could the children have solved their family problems?
- mistreating children – although this movie is a comedy, Mother and Father are still cruel, self-centred, mean-spirited and nasty. How would you and your family react if you knew about a situation like this?