Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 50 minutes, Directors – Michael Rianda, Jeff Rowe
While taking daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson) to college the Mitchell family becomes the only remaining people on Earth who can stop the technological uprising.
The standard family road trip, often shown from the children’s perspective as a hellishly restricting venture, while the parents view it as a hopeful bonding exercise. For the Mitchells it’s a journey much like their tattered vehicle, full of “character, class and some green ooze we can learn about together!” The group of four (plus, real hero, dog Monchi) are travelling across the country to take daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson) to college in California. Katie’s relationship with her father, Rick (Danny McBride); a man who has a tendency to exclaim statements such as “it’s not illegal if you’re good at it” when skipping traffic jams in out of use lanes, begins to experience tension. She’s all set to venture further into her life of potential filmmaking – having had great success with short films and parodies on YouTube, not always to the occasional bemusement of her parents (Maya Rudolph plays Mum Linda), and entertainment of younger brother Aaron (co-writer-director, alongside Jeff Rowe, Michael Rianda) – and yet feels undermined at times by her family, particularly the almost strong lifelong relationship with her Dad.
After various rest stops and failed attempts at family bonding the proudly weird – the film is credited as being “a movie by a bunch of weird humans” – family they find themselves facing the ultimate exercise in the form of the technological uprising. When tech developer Mark Bowman’s (Eric Andre) latest advancement, a robot assistant with plenty of smart-phone like abilities, gains power of itself thanks to AI assistant PAL (Olivia Colman on consistently joyful form) it captures every human possible to launch them into space, creating a peaceful Earth for all of technology. When the Mitchells find themselves the last humans left they, eventually, take it upon themselves to brave the world of sentient toasters, fridges and Furbys to save all of humanity.
With a blend of 2d and 3d animation, mixing slight convention with the filmic gaze that Katie sees the world through and cartoon-like hints to show small details of character emotion and interactions with technology, there’s a distinct visual flare to the film. One that makes the world feel unique and original, engaging you further within it, and connecting you with the characters as they try to survive. As was the case with other Sony Animation project Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, also produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who, alongside The Lego Movie, prove to be a strong force in creative, boundary-breaking animation.
As was the case with previous Lord and Miller produced animated features The Mitchells Vs The Machines (originally titled Connected) packs in plenty of heart. Far from a saccharine forced message it instead feels like a finely tuned set of emotional beats that the cast and crew genuinely believe in. One that celebrates the weirdness of not just the central family but all of those involved in the making of the film, and those watching. There may be the ideals, in this case it’s neighbours the Poseys (voiced by John Legend, Chrissy Teigen and Charlyne Yi) with their family yoga sessions and peaceful retreats, but they aren’t part of the people we have a familial bond and connection to. This is far from a film that observes it’s characters as ‘quirky’ or ‘dysfunctional’ or anything close to ‘wacky’, they’re not even outsiders. Instead the Mitchells are an everyday family with their imperfections, grudges, hopes, wishes and most of all thoughts and emotions. It’s what drives them to not just fight against the robot s that they face, but to fight against them together in plenty of inventive ways – disguising the car so that it looks like it blends in with the road for example.
Such hints particularly come in during the second half of the piece. The often laugh-out-loud humour is definitely still present, and each scene continues to overflow with creativity that uses the animated form to full advantage while managing to not go towards the realms of pure stupidity. And while the final events do add to the near two hour run-time there’s a fair deal of entertainment value to be found that keeps things running smoothly enough until the end.
Perhaps the best testament to the film is the fact that it can use references to popular internet videos, including one to the ten year old Nyan Cat, and not feel cringeworthy or as if it’s trying to connect with a younger audience. It simply uses them effectively and without being too in your face to advance the plot, and add to the characters. Emphasising the world that they live in, and perhaps a near accurate, if occasionally intentionally exaggerated, depiction of 21st Century relationships with technology and what it can help, and allow, us to do. It simply adds to the cartoonish nature that the film embraces to allow the engaging ‘weirdness’ of the central figures to show. They’re enjoyable characters and it’s easy to form a connection with them as they emit heart and humour that the creators heap into them, and the film as a whole. It comes across with ease in one of the most fresh, unique, genuine and original animations standing out from the standard Disney and Pixar fare.
The Mitchells Vs. The Machines is a film that wholeheartedly embraces the idea of family. Inventively celebrating all their possible weirdness and individuality in a creative, hilarious piece filled with heart, emotion and most of all laughs.