This past week, writer-director Kris Pearn (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2) gave Annecy fans a sneak peek at his 2012 Netflix movie The Willoughbys. We had the chance to chat with him about his highly stylized CG-animated feature which is currently in production with BRON Animation studio in Vancouver. Based on the book by Newberry Medal-winning author Lois Lowry, the pic follows the adventures of the four Willoughby children who are abandoned by their selfish parents and have to learn how to become a modern family.
Pearn says he found the book property through producer Luke Carroll at BRON. “I was immediately attracted to the tone and humor of the story,” he says. “It reminded me of the books I loved when I was a kid. It also held themes that I found interesting as a father: Children who think for themselves and solve their own problems, while celebrating the awkwardness of family. I pitched back a coming of age story hinging on the life journey between the family we’re born into… and the family we choose.”
Rotten Parents Rule!
Pear says he felt strongly that the movie had to be an offbeat comedy. “When we introduced the film to Netflix, and their response was, ‘Are the Willoughby Parents rotten enough?’ I knew we’d found a good partner,” says the director. “The Willoughbys is a love letter to unconventional families. It is a movie that celebrates awkward relationships, change, and acceptance… but most importantly, it’s funny. Or, I hope it is. The audience will be the final judge of that.”
As Pearn sees it, what sets this movie part from other animated family fare is that it’s subversive, but not dark. “It’s absurd, but also tries to be kind,” he explains. “It is a movie with very adult themes, but it absolutely celebrates kid logic and the silliness of family. It’s a sophisticated CG animated film with a handmade look. It is sentimental, but in a very unsentimental way (hockey fans will know what this means)!
The director says he hopes The Willoughbys is seen as a film about kids…that was not made for kids. He notes, “It is a comedy for anyone at any age, who is or has been in a family that is NOT perfect…which is everyone I’ve ever met. And I’ve met like almost 100 people. Almost!”
For now, Pearn says he and his team are working hard to make the movie looks as good as they possibly can while finding time to iterate on a complicated story. “Illustrating universality and maintaining consistent tone comes from iteration, and iteration is the first casualty when the production train leaves the station,” he points out. “It’s been a challenge… but I’ve learned a lot. Lesson one: Casting is king. Trust the leads. Oh, and the movie lives and dies in edit. Strong edit equals strong movie!
All challenges aside, Pearn says he IS having a great time collaborating with his team. “I love the crew,” he says. “I love the artists who show up and work late and try hard to make the story the best it can be. From digging out the animatic, to giving feedback on screenings, to the day to day hard work of lifting footage … working with this crew has been awesome. I love Netflix and the creative support they’ve provided. I love seeing the movie find its voice and go through all the awkwardness and struggle of creation. It’s been a good laugh with good people. I’m very grateful for that.
Netflix will premiere The Willoughbys in 2020. Directed by Kris Pearn, the film features the voices of Ricky Gervais, Maya Rudolph, Will Forte, Martin Short, Alessia Cara and Jane Krakowski.
“It’s a comedy for anyone, at any age, who is or has been in a family that is not perfect. Which is everyone I’ve ever met.
– Director Kris Pearn