Producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are on a bit of a run. The filmmaking team broke through with their lucrative adaptation of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs in 2009 and have since become known as one of the signature voices in animation and live-action movies, especially by spearheading the immensely popular Lego Movie and Spider-Verse franchises.
Where those projects used animation to honor and reflect the sensibilities of specific real-world items (picture books, Legos and comic books, respectively), their newest movie The Mitchells vs. the Machines is tasked with reflecting some other, far grander, less tangible sect of culture. Tech? Lack of interpersonal connectivity? YouTube Kids?
Whatever niche that co-directors and writers Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe explore through their hyperactive, elastic style in the new Sony Pictures Animation film (streaming on Netflix today), The Mitchells vs. the Machines sifts snugly into the mold of the typical kids animation genre while boasting a swath of idiosyncrasies that keep it enjoyable, breezy, and frequently hilarious.
Is The Mitchells vs. the Machines a good movie?
The Mitchells vs. the Machines impressively finds a way to laugh both with and at the world of 21st-century technology, harmlessly keying into the cognitive and humanistic dissonances that are its byproducts.
The Netflix movie opens on the titular Mitchells, a family of weirdos harboring deeply individualized interests who have one thing in common: their collective need to go to therapy. Kidding! I’m…I’m half-kidding. Daughter Katie is so ready to head off to college tomorrow, study filmmaking, and cultivate lifelong bonds that the rest of her family (save the occasional interaction with her unashamed younger brother) can’t provide.
Her dad feels Katie pulling apart from him, and her addiction to technology doesn’t help. So, he scraps together a last-minute family road trip to drop Katie off at college and reinstate their connection. What could go wrong? Thanks to an AI update, Murphy’s law, yada yada yada. Pretty soon, the Mitchells realize that they must band together to stop a full-blown robot uprising and save humanity from eternal damnation: getting sequestered in isolated rooms with only the Internet to bide their time. How unrealistic. These crazy kids movies.
Much of The Mitchells vs. the Machines lightly skewers our evolving relationships to technology. The generation gap, artificial intelligence, even the tech keynote presentation are included as key points of fixation and relatability. Moreover, the quality of technology’s distinct imperfections masked behind a veneer of shiny, sleek objectivity makes for a majority of the film’s comedy. Two robots malfunction and attempt to assimilate into the Mitchells in an outrageously funny scene, and an extended cutaway after the movie’s villain shuts off Wi-Fi everywhere astutely displays the chaos that follows.
One of the major hangups in The Mitchells vs. the Machines is the animation throughline involving superimposed elements that look like kiddie drawings (as well as clips of real images/videos) which simulate feelings, highlight notable moments, and emphasize oddities of certain plot beats. The effect is used to dull down the ratcheting stakes, engender the animation with a faster, frenetic pace, and ostensibly make the movie seem like it’s one of Katie’s own shorts. In doing so, it actually ends up keeping the audience noticeably removed from the more engaging elements of the story and detracts from the primary animation style.
Ultimately, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is delightful and innately charming. The story is brought to emotional life by a smart, fulfilling script – all kudos to Rianda and Rowe – and features a stellar voice cast – Olivia Colman, Abbi Jacobson, and Beck Bennett shine most of all. By tailoring the all-too-familiar DNA of the animated family movie to fit the “extremely online” teen generation, The Mitchells vs. the Machines helps make a little sense out of the most surreal, excitable, out-of-control aesthetics of today’s digital age.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines is now on Netflix.
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