Synopsis – A quirky, dysfunctional family’s road trip is upended when they find themselves in the middle of the robot apocalypse and suddenly become humanity’s unlikeliest last hope.
My Take – Though Sony Pictures Animation has seen success with the Hotel Transylvania series, the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Angry Birds films among others, yet none elevated the studio to the status which Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature, garnered them to.
Winning widespread appreciation for experimenting with fresh animated techniques and for taking an innovative approach to storytelling, the Marvel story backed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Film) was deservingly an astounding success upon release. While we patiently wait to grace the sequel next year, the duo along with director Mike Rianda and writer Jeff Rowe, attempt to tell an original tale by bringing their similar set of varieties to this latest Netflix release.
However, no one would have the outcome to be so good. From its zany visuals to its wild plot and genuinely sweet observations on family, the film is a joy in every way. Being smartly written, the film is hilarious, landing joke after joke without ever sacrificing the development of its characters, the core of the story and the emotional ground. Making it an utter delight from start to finish that brings the best of animation and the internet to life, hereby appealing to both adults and kids alike.
The story follows the Mitchells, a dysfunctional family which consists of an aspiring filmmaker daughter named Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), her loving mother Linda (voiced by Maya Rudolph), her younger brother Aaron (voiced by Mike Rianda) and her tech-averse father Rick (voiced by Danny McBride), with whom Katie fails to see eye to eye on most matters. Now accepted into college of her dreams in faraway California, Katie is eager to leave, that is until, Rick in a last-ditch attempt at bonding switches out her solo airplane ride with a cross-country family road trip to reconcile.
However, their plans hit a major snag when PAL (voiced by Olivia Colman), a popular virtual assistant, angered by her creator and founder of PAL Labs, Dr. Mark Bowman’s (voiced by Eric Andre) attempt to discard her in favor of an updated version, decides to turn the world’s technology on humanity, forcing the dysfunctional Mitchells to work together and prevent the apocalypse.
What follows is a chaotically entertaining film with an eye-catching twist on the family road dramedy genre and messages about the importance of family and commentary on our reliance on technology. Sure, while the dysfunctional family trope sounds familiar because it has been used a lot throughout the years in both film and television. However, here, director and co-writers Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe manage to breathe new life into this genre with their signature style of film-making.
Based on the bizarre premise, it would seem like we have a case of two different films clashing together. However, the otherwise routine story-line of a family overcoming their differences is ultimately saved and even elevated by this other arc, because the film’s biggest theme lies in how overly dependent people have become to technology nowadays.
To the film’s credit, the relationship between Rick and Katie is special and organic not to mention relatable to any grown-up desperately trying to connect with someone from the younger, more tech-savvy generation. There’s more nuance here than a totally out-of-touch father and an unjustifiably rebellious teenage daughter; each of them needs to work to see the other’s point of view.
That journey to get on the same wavelength is drawn seamlessly into the greater battle to defeat the machines. An impromptu stick-shift lesson from Rick ultimately comes in handy for Katie, while his daughter’s imagined, action-film-informed schemes turn into life-saving plans.
And whenever director Rianda veers too close to sentimental territory, a gag balances everything out. Katie’s big speech toward the end of the film is touching, but it also sends PAL right into sleep mode. This isn’t just for a couple of scenes, either. Sections of the film are so relentlessly hilarious it is hard to catch your breath, as bountiful sight gags are mixed with cutaway jokes, moments of ingenious characterization and witty dialogue.
However, what makes the film stand out, much like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is its unique animation. The film embraces stylizing over photo-realism, mirroring the sketches and doodles of Katie’s notebook. The character designs and backgrounds are exaggerated in classic cartoon fashion, and the animation team further augments the picture with scribbled hearts, bold letters, and scribbled swirls.
Also, there are emoji and animations sprinkled throughout the entire film as if we’re watching one long Instagram Story or Katie had gotten her hands on the film after it was filmed and added her own little personal touches to it. It’s clever and creative in ways that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was praised for its comic-book-style presentation.
Sure, many element of the story feels borrowed, and the film, running at 109 minutes feels a tad too long, but there is too much that’s great about the film to be anything other than enraptured by it, especially its heart and humor that is infectious and very enjoyable.
The voices cast is just excellent, with Olivia Colman, Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Beck Bennett, Fred Armisen, and Eric Andre, clearly having a blast in their roles. In other roles, Alex Hirsch, Blake Griffin, Charlyne Yi, Conan O’Brien, Elle Mills, Griffin McElroy, Jay Pharoah, Sasheer Zamata, Mike Rianda, Chrissy Teigen, and John Legend are good too. On the whole, ‘The Mitchells vs. The Machines’ is an excellently innovative animated film anchored by its gorgeous visuals, humor, and a heartwarming message.
Directed – Michael Rianda
Rated – PG
Run Time – 109 minutes