Film Review: The Mitchells vs. The Machines
The Mitchells vs. The Machines
Directors: Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe
Sony Pictures Animation and Lord Miller Productions
Streaming on Netflix 04.30
The premise of robots taking over and enslaving humanity has been done so many times that it’s hard to imagine that there is anything new to do with it. But the thing was true of an animated Spider-Man movie, and look how that turned out? The Mitchells vs. The Machines is yet another case of Lord Miller Productions defying all of the odds against them.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines is the story of a creative outsider named Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson, Broad City), who’s accepted into the film school of her dreams and is eager to leave home and find “her people.” Her nature-loving dad, Rick (voiced by Danny McBride, Your Highness, The Righteous Gemstones) insists on having the whole family drive her to school and bond during one last totally-not-awkward-or-forced road trip. But just when the trip can’t get any worse, the family suddenly finds itself in the middle of the robot uprising! Everything from smartphones to roombas to evil Furbys are deployed to capture every human on the planet. Now it’s up to the Mitchells, including upbeat mom Linda (Maya Rudolph), quirky little brother Aaron, their squishy pug, Monchi, and two friendly but simple-minded robots to save humanity.
Writer-directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe (Gravity Falls) have absolutely hit their first feature film out of the park, giving us an animated family film that is fast-moving, often side-splittingly funny and filled with plenty of heartfelt emotion. But the biggest surprise, for me, was just how fresh they managed to make the premise of a robot takeover feel and doing it in a humorous way incorporating present-day technology, specifically a program called Pal, a parody of Siri and Alexa, voiced to perfection by Oscar winner Olivia Colman.
What really keeps it different from the Terminator and Matrix films is the element of emotion given to the artificial intelligence, with resentment, jealousy and fear becoming large motivating factors as opposed to detached, logical thought. It may be seen as a major story flaw to some because it’s not given a lot of explanation, but in a cartoon that takes such a light and goofy approach, to do so would be a mistake. The important thing is the fundamental idea that anything that has a creator or master craves validation and reassurance from them, and The Mitchells vs. The Machines has some great moments exploring what happens when you’re utterly dependent on someone and then you mistreat them.
The voice cast is good all around, with McBride—a talented actor whose niche Hollywood hasn’t given him ample opportunity to show—really making Rick into a lovable character. Jacobson’s Katie is a relatable protagonist, and it’s refreshing to see a girl depicted as an aspiring filmmaker, something we rarely see, which is nice to see as a reflection of the focus on women directors that’s currently taking place in the industry. As far as the film’s humor goes, Conan O’Brien and Beck Bennett (Saturday Night Live) get the lion’s share of the belly laughs voicing robots.
The Mitchell’s vs. The Machines is another big win for the power team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), who served as executive producers. They just keep proving again and again that their names on an animated film are a sign that it’s something not to be missed under any circumstances. It gets a gleeful and hearty recommendation from me, and I look forward to watching it again. –Patrick Gibbs