The weekend keeps chugging along, and amongst the many new movies that are out right now (Things Heard & Seen, Without Remorse, Nomadland), Netflix has slipped out an animated family film, which you may not have heard of, but you will certainly want to watch. The film is The Mitchells vs the Machines – a sci-fi road movie which is the debut feature of director Mike Rianda.
The movie features a voice cast that includes Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson, Maya Rudolph, Olivia Colman, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, and Conan O’Brien, and is touted as being ‘from the producers that brought you Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie’. And this is a good line to stick on the poster, because The Mitchells vs. the Machines feels like it is cut from similar cloth as both of those features, and if you love Into the Spider-Verse or The Lego Movie you’ll love this one too.
In the movie, the Mitchells are a quirky family. They love each other like most families do, but over the years everyone has become distant, and in particular, a wedge has formed between Rick Mitchell and his daughter, Katie.
Rick is a technophobe who dreams of a simple existence, similar to how things used to be back in his youth. Meanwhile, Katie embraces technology and spends her days making movies with her laptop and phone.
Katie shares her films on YouTube and sees this as a viable career path for her future, but Rick isn’t convinced. Not only does he struggle to understand her passion, he also fails to encourage it, and this has put their relationship at breaking point, just as she is about to leave for college.
Realising that time is running out to close the gap between himself and his teenage daughter, Rick comes up with a plan – to take the family on a cross-country road trip. The Mitchells will hit the highway, take in some sights and make some memories, all before dropping Katie off at college, where she will have a new-found appreciation for what she’s leaving behind.
Unfortunately, while Rick is busy putting his road trip into action, a robot apocalypse takes place, which completely scuppers his plan and threatens humanity. With the family in grave danger, and all human life set to be eradicated, Rick and Katie have to put aside their differences in order to find common ground and save the world.
From the moment The Mitchells vs. the Machines begins and the production logos pop up on screen, it is quite clear this is going to be a fun movie – it looks good, it sounds great, and gags are being fired thick and fast. And this fun-loving vibe remains throughout the entirety of the picture. It’s there in the story-telling, it’s there in the characterisation, and it is infused into every drop of digital paint that is used in the animation – which is also superb.
There is a particular style of animation which is utilised in the movie, which is the default setting for the film, but every once in a while, things get a little shake up. A few flourishes are added here, a couple of neat touches there, and the end result is something which remains fresh and exciting.
This film is also hilarious. The humour is consistently strong throughout, however, there is one scene in particular which has the ability to produce full-on belly laughs.
I won’t say too much about it, but the scene involves the return of the ‘90s toyline, the Furby. This entire sequence is a joy to watch, it reduced me to fits of laughter, and I guarantee every kid watching will think it is the best moment in the entire movie.
But push all of the flashy animation and the gags to one side and the reason I am so enamoured with this movie is because of the story. The theme of generational divisions is something we can all appreciate and understand, perhaps now more than ever, and it is perfectly blended together with a sci-fi romp.
This level of storytelling – usually reserved for Pixar movies – becomes the real selling point of the movie, and is its strongest asset. The journey that Rick, Katie, and the rest of the Mitchell clan go on is handled brilliantly and hits every mark.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a smart animated feature, with plenty of action, a good dollop of humour, and heaps of heart. It explores the divisions between different age groups, and it delivers its central message without being ham-fisted or preachy.
This is excellent entertainment, suitable for audiences of all ages and with characters that feel relatable and fully-rounded. It completely surprised me, because it feels like it has come out of nowhere, but The Mitchells vs. the Machines has proved to be a very welcome surprise, and one which I implore you to experience for yourself.