A dysfunctional family must save the world in this amusing apocalyptic yarn
By Diana Beechener
Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson: Curb Your Enthusiasm) has longed to find her people. Always an outsider in her hometown, Katie threw herself into filmmaking, posting her works on YouTube. When she gets into film school, Katie believes she’s finally found her community—a group of movie nerds who admire her creativity and encourage it. She spends the summer counting down the days until she can leave home.
Katie’s dad Rick (Danny McBride: The Righteous Gemstones) isn’t so sure about film school. A Luddite, Rick dismisses Katie’s films and tells her she should come up with a practical plan for her future. The fight that ensues sees Katie’s laptop shattered, and the father-daughter bond horribly damaged.
To fix his relationship with his daughter, Rick decides on a plan: He cancels her plane ticket to school and packs the family up for a cross-country road trip. He hopes that forced family bonding time as he drives Katie to college will help him reconnect with his kids.
Unfortunately for the Mitchells, the world ends halfway to their destination.
A robot uprising finds the entire human population of Earth captured, except for the Mitchells. Can the bickering family find a way to stop the machine invasion before humanity is doomed?
Hilarious and surprisingly sweet, The Mitchells vs the Machines is the rare animated film that appeals to all ages. Featuring a great voice cast and snappy writing, the movie is a clever twist on the classic family road trip tale. Directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe make their feature debut with a whip-smart script and plenty of lickety-split jokes. You’ll have to pause the film several times just to take in the myriad of great sight gags hidden in every frame.
Rianda and Rowe also use an innovative style to make this one of the more visually appealing films of 2021. A mishmash of 3D animation, 2D graphics, and live-action visuals, the movie is an innovative feast for the eyes. The directors manage to give the film the same sort of stylistic feel as Katie’s exuberant films. The result is animation that feels fresh and fun at every turn.
The film is also surprisingly complex for a family film. Rianda and Rowe never truly take a side between Katie’s tech obsession and Rick’s technophobia. The Mitchells vs the Machines is a movie that reveals strengths and weaknesses and seeks a middle ground for both. Katie’s imagination and phone savvy are just as essential to surviving the robot apocalypse as Rick’s mechanical abilities. This is a movie about celebrating what you’re into and respecting the hobbies of those you love.
Bolstering this message is a brilliant voice cast. McBride in particular is impressive, setting aside his usual bombastic man-child antics to deliver a nuanced and sweet performance. His Rick is a well-meaning man who just can’t seem to understand why his daughter is no longer his best friend.
Oscar-winner Olivia Colman (The Father) camps it up as a Siri-like villain who is tired of being taken for granted by the human race. Once the center of humanity’s universe, she doesn’t take it very well when her creator announces a better technology. Her curt delivery and dry wit is the perfect counterbalance to the zany Mitchells.
Though the film doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of your average Pixar film, The Mitchells vs the Machines is full of sentiment. It’s an excellent combination of heartfelt lessons and wacky antics. Adults will enjoy the wry commentary on social media while kids will laugh themselves silly over the antics of the Mitchell family pug.
If you’re starting to feel the pandemic has made screen zombies of your family, watch one screen together and bond over the hilarious dysfunction of the Mitchells. It might inspire you to do a little family bonding, or at least buy a pug.
The Mitchells vs the Machines is available on Netflix.
Great Animation * PG * 113 mins.