The Mitchells vs. the Machines, 2021.
Written and Directed by Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe.
Featuring the voice talents of Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Blake Griffin, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi, Conan O’Brien, Sasheer Zamata, Elle Mills, Jay Pharoah, Alex Hirsch, and Griffin McElroy.
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.
There’s a rather ingenious twist on the robot uprising formula to be found within The Mitchells vs. the Machines that’s probably too farfetched for live-action storytelling, but in the confines of animation proves to be something genuinely compelling for adults, amusing for younger audiences with much irreverent humor and colorful visual flourishes, that most importantly, might be able to speak to families as a unit the same way the titular Mitchells are tested and challenged by the digital age.
Stuck in one of the most frustrating family dynamics, soon-to-be college student Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is disconnected from those around her. She’s into film, video editing, YouTube, all things technology, and choosing to pursue an artistic career already having directed numerous home movies titled “Good Cop, Dog Cop” using the family pug as a starring vehicle. This is a stark contrast to her younger brother Aaron (voiced by Michael Rianda, who also helms this project) who is obsessed with dinosaurs, her supportive mom Linda (Maya Rudolph), and the outdoorsman nature-focused father Rick (Danny McBride, who doesn’t fully sound like himself here but nevertheless embraces both the comedic and dramatic strokes giving what has to be one of his best performances to date) that she once couldn’t be separated from. Early on, there’s a family argument that leads into Rick watching old videotapes of the good times between him and Katie that’s executed with sincerity and actual sadness. You know these people have drifted apart, and you can’t help but want to get to the core of why and see them happy together again.
Screen devices are one of the major culprits here, so much so that when Eric André’s Pal electronics owner and entrepreneur Mark Bowman (think of the character and corporation as standing in for Apple) incites a technological rebellion prompting Olivia Colman’s Pal (again, just think of this voice is Alexa) to go on a tangent about how humans don’t deserve the Internet because we have proceeded to use it for all the wrong things, it’s hard to argue against the villain. Younger viewers will see themselves in Katie whether it’s panicking over an apocalypse without Wi-Fi or the torture of having her family drive her across the country for college (obviously, those plans change once the machines rise up), whereas adults will, hopefully, actually take a movie where our cellular devices literally become vengeful robots (Mark’s new invention basically amounts to attaching phones to cybernetic bodies so that they can take all kinds of orders from humans such as cleaning the house) and round us up inside holographic pods to send us off God knows where, a tiny bit seriously. It’s probably what we deserve in real life.
That’s not to say The Mitchells vs. the Machines (which is co-written/directed by Jeff Rowe) has it out against social media and technology, but rather wants individuals of all ages to reflect on their consumption and what’s healthy, and if it’s preventing them from maintaining meaningful connections with loved ones. It’s a bold move from an animated feature, but I’d also expect no less ambition coming from producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The LEGO Movie), which in terms of humor is exactly what this feels like.
And yes, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is also a very funny movie as it follows this fractured family forced to work together defending themselves. They befriend a pair of the defective machines, compete with the perfect family to stay safe, and even end up squaring off against a popular toy from the 90s (and still popular today in some circles) gone evil as they road trip to a place where they can securely upload the kill code into the Pal database. As such, they come together once again but might even be lying to one another about their feelings just for the sake of staying alive. It all concludes with bright, eye-popping, sugar rush chaos that never forgets its intentions regarding the importance of not only finding your own people but holding on to something special between outgrown bonds. Admittedly, there are some cliché revelations as to why Rick chooses to keep a distance from supporting Katie artistically, and some all-around formulaic storytelling, but nothing necessarily frustrating.
It’s also crucial to note that while Abbi Jacobson is wonderful at demonstrating Katie’s eagerness to forge new connections while having the importance of her real family rekindled, the character is also gay without pandering or beating it into the ground for brownie points. If anything, it could be explored more, but nonetheless adds a little something extra to a movie about finding your own people. Anyway, if your goal is finding good movies, look no further than The Mitchells vs. the Machines.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com