Two Fridays ago, Netflix released the Sony animated comedy The Mitchells vs. the Machines, a movie about your average, everyday, flawed family led by college-bound teenager Katie Mitchell (voiced by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson), an aspiring filmmaker who, along with her parents, Rick (Eastbound and Down’s Danny McBride) and Linda (Saturday Night Live’s Maya Rudolph), her younger brother Aaron (voiced by the film’s first-time director Michael Rianda) and their dog Monchi, find themselves human race’s last hope when our world of technology turns on them and starts rounding the humans up to be shot into space so they can make a perfect existence for themselves on Earth.
If that description makes the movie sound like a Black Mirror-style techno-downer that will make you question our dependence on technology while also being a stirring meditation of the importance of family and what it means to be human, well, that’s because, at times, it really is most of those things. Well, all of that (minus the downer part) plus a look at how frightening an army of attacking Furbys would be.
Because truly, even with all of the heady themes that the movie focuses on in its slightly-under two hour runtime, this, at its very core, is a silly, silly movie.
Both the variety and quantity of jokes in this movie is stunning. It’s literally a blink and you’ll miss it-supply of laughs including everything from sight gags to cartoony slapstick to just really clever dialogue. You will not catch them all the first time or maybe even the second time. I could spend some column inches describing some of them to you but they’re made to be experienced first-hand and enjoyed.
And while the yuks are all you can.. well... yuk, the strength of The Mitchells vs. the Machines is in its heart.
The relationship at the core of the movie is the father/daughter bond between Katie and Rick. The conflict is pretty standard. Katie is going to film school with dreams of becoming a famous director and mentions early on in the movie how her parents “don’t get her yet”. Rick is driven by practicality and the simplicity of living life outside the world of technology. Naturally, he’s not as supportive of Katie and her creative dreams as she’d like and, over time, this has driven a wedge between the two.
The resolution is pretty standard as well. He learns the value of technology and validity of the way Katie thinks about and experiences the world and she learns to understand that his worldview is also important and no matter their disagreements, he is always supportive and proud. Having said that, it may be standard but it does not stop it from being effective and making you feel real feelings. You will become emotional because of a small wooden moose whose significance you learn about over the course of the movie and there’s just nothing you can do about it.
What sells that emotion more than anything is the performances. Everyone in this cast is pitch-perfect highlighted by McBride’s Rick and Jacobson’s Kate but not leaving out Rudolph’s Linda who’s a fairly laid back first grade teacher who likes giving out star stickers and making cupcakes with her kids’ face on them but turns into The Bride from Kill Bill mixed with Rambo when the robots threaten to harm her family or Rianda’s Aaron who loves dinosaurs so much that he go through the phone book and ask random strangers if they’d like to talk about dinos with them.
Add in two hilarious and malfunctioning robots, Eric and Deborahbot 5000 (played by Saturday Night Live’s Beck Bennett and Fred Armisen), who join the family on their cross-country adventure, a bumbling Mark Zuckerberg-type played by comedian Eric Andre and an evil Alexa-like operating system that’s running this machine takeover voiced by Oscar-winner Olivia Coleman along with cameos from the likes of Conan O’Brien, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen and Blake Griffin and you start to understand how much they nailed the casting of this movie.
In addition to groundbreaking animation built off of the style pioneered in 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (the film is produced by Phil Miller and Chris Lord who produced Spider-Verse as well as writing and directing The Lego Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 and 22 Jumpstreet) the movie also features little stylistic touches that get used as exclamation points. Think the BAMs! and POWs! from the 1960’s Batman (the transition from that show is referenced in the movie) but incorporating everything from “hand-drawn” flourishes like little title cards or mini-animations on top of the regular animation to actual viral videos spliced in at points to add extra emphasis or pizazz.
This is a beautiful and colorful movie, start to finish, in both appearance and in make-up. They throw a lot at you in two hours but it’s never overwhelming or headache-inducing. It’s just beautiful, watercolor-style animation that ends up painting some realistic depictions of the highs and lows of being a family and the joys and foibles of humanity and how the power of creativity might just save us all someday. Plus, at one point, a dog wears a tuxedo like a little gentleman. The Mitchells vs. the Machines has everything.