Directed by: Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe
Premise: An animated film. The Mitchell family embarks on a cross-country road trip to drop their daughter off at college. While enroute, robots rebel against humanity and the Mitchells are the only ones who can save civilization.
What Works: The Mitchells vs the Machines was produced by filmmakers who worked on movies such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie—namely Chris Miller and Phil Lord—and The Mitchells vs the Machines has a similar sensibility. The jokes come from a variety of angles including physical comedy, puns, and cultural references and every bit gets a laugh. But the filmmakers are also adept at one of the most important elements of comedy: timing. At its center, The Mitchells vs the Machines is a domestic story about a father and a daughter and a science fiction adventure of a robot apocalypse. Those premises are approached comically but the filmmakers never lose sight of the stakes of the drama and they show good judgement as to when to go for a laugh and when to play it straight. The dramatic story between the family members has some real moments. The daughter (voice of Abbi Jacobson) feels as though her family, and especially her father, do not understand her and she can’t wait to get out and away and start her own life. The tension among the family members is recognizable and presented in a credible way. The film is also smartly unified. The sci-fi aspect of The Mitchells vs the Machines is departed from the family story but the two narrative threads are tied together with the emphasis on relationships and abandonment. The Mitchells vs the Machines is also smart about the role of technology in relationships and in the culture. It isn’t a luddite film. This isn’t about how technology is bad but the filmmakers do poke fun at the way technology and social media have influenced our lives and they do so with intelligence and wit.
What Doesn’t: The filmmakers keep trying to convince the audience that the Mitchells are weird or dysfunctional. The family is at best a little eccentric but they never really comes across as anything other than normal. But the Mitchells are fully developed characters and that’s enough to make them interesting. The focus of The Mitchells vs the Machines is on the father-daughter relationship. The mother and son have roles to play in the story but the filmmakers rarely come up with ways to use them as anything other than sidekicks. The mother finally gets to be proactive in the ending when she unleashes her inner “mama grizzly” to defend her family but this mostly comes out of nowhere. The film doesn’t work up to this moment and it feels tagged on rather than a climax for her character.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: The Mitchells vs the Machines combines a family road movie with a sci-fi adventure and the result is an excellent piece of animated entertainment. It’s goofy and exciting but the movie also possesses an intelligence and depth of character beyond what we might expect.
Episode: #856 (June 20, 2021)