THE STORY – Young Katie Mitchell embarks on a road trip with her proud parents, younger brother and beloved dog to start her first year at film school. But their plans to bond as a family soon get interrupted when the world’s electronic devices come to life to stage an uprising. With help from two friendly robots, the Mitchells must now come together to save one another — and the planet — from the new technological revolution.
THE CAST – Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Olivia Colman & Eric André
THE TEAM – Michael Rianda & Jeff Rowe (Directors/Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 113 Minutes
By Cody Dericks
As far as the field of animation goes, the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have proven to be one of the most consistently exciting creative forces working today. So much so that even their presence as producers was enough to make me excited for “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” the new animated film from Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe. Combining all of their talents has resulted in an inventive, high-energy adventure with a genuine heart that’s rarely found in films of its kind.
It was only a matter of time before a family film tackled our modern-day overreliance on cell phones, tablets, and anything with a screen. This film’s tech-obsessed family in question is the Mitchells. Oldest daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is an aspirational filmmaker who spends her time making charmingly bizarre YouTube videos. Her little brother Aaron (Michael Rianda) is obsessed with dinosaurs, and her mom Linda (Maya Rudolph), can’t stop comparing her brood to the seemingly perfect lives of her neighbors. Only the family’s patriarch Rick (Danny McBride), can resist the allure of the ever-present glowing screen. He increasingly finds himself unable to connect with his family as a result. He and Katie have a hard time relating to each other in particular. But when the world is taken over by an army of intelligent phone-liked robots, led by a definitely-not-Siri-stand-in named Pal (Olivia Colman), the Mitchells find themselves the severely ill-equipped saviors of humanity.
It’s impossible not to mention how quickly this movie moves. Trying to describe it without using the word “energy” is a genuinely impossible task. The animators wisely accentuate their kinetic CGI animation with hand-drawn moments of flair that add dazzle to every action and comedic beat. There’s not a wasted moment in the film, which is extra impressive given that it’s just seven minutes shy of being two hours long. That’s a fairly long runtime for an animated movie, but it wisely uses its time to make the audience genuinely care about the Mitchells. When the film inevitably raises its stakes in the third act, it’s hard not to be affected by the peril in which the family finds themselves. There are some heartfelt moments towards the end of the film, and they actually work.
With a film this constantly active, the jokes rarely stop. The audience is barraged with an unending cavalcade of visual humor and tossed-off quips. Not every joke lands, but when they come at you with such frequency, it’s easy to excuse a few duds, knowing another joke is right around the corner. Delivering these jokes is the well-qualified cast of voice actors, who prove to be a committed ensemble who bring both humor and soul to their characters. Jacobsen makes for a spunky, likable lead. The film gets extra points for making her an openly gay character (she wears a rainbow flag button the entire movie) whose queerness isn’t played as a surprise moment, as is the recent trend with family films. And Colman is her usual brilliant self as a sarcastic AI.
The Mitchells are pitched as a weird family with a capital “w,” but outside of a few quirks and affectations, they’re actually a pretty normal bunch. Obviously, this is necessary to make the movie palatable to as broad an audience as possible. Still, when the sentiment is expressed as often as it is in this movie, it can’t help but ring a bit false. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not a lovable group.
It’s a bit rich that a film that critiques our addiction to technology is being released by Netflix, meaning a wide portion of the film’s audience will probably watch it on a cell phone. But the dynamic family at the story’s center and the fantastic sense of energy mean that “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” will be an enjoyable time no matter how it’s viewed.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The long runtime means that the audience is able to become fully invested in the Mitchell family, which makes the whole endeavor all the more heartfelt.
THE BAD – Not all of the humor lands, but the jokes are so frequent that its less successful ones don’t weigh the film down.