"The Mitchells vs. The Machines" stars Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Mike Rianda, Eric Andre, and Olivia Colman. Released on Netflix on April 30, 2021, the film is about a family who encounters a tech uprising during their road trip.
The film featured the directorial debut of Mike Rianda, who is known for his involvement with "Gravity Falls". Don't you hate it when a family road trip gets interrupted by technology? I'm not talking about people's eyes being glued to their devices all the time. I'm talking about actual machines ruining a family's bonding time by plotting to enslave the human race. This family sure does. The folks at Sony Pictures Animation are back to tackle an original property with producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller after delivering recent follow-ups based on monsters and angry birds. The animation studio has plenty of films coming out this year, and today, I'm taking a look at one film that involves a family road trip and a robot apocalypse. It was initially planned for a theatrical release last year under the name "Connected". Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it wound up being canceled for the sake of keeping its younger audience safe from the virus. Eventually, Netflix bought the distribution rights to the film and have it released on the streaming service under its former title "The Mitchells vs. The Machines". I thought "Connected" is a better name for something like this, but that's just me. That would make this one of three films from Sony Pictures Animation to be released on Netflix, with the other two being "Wish Dragon", which was released theatrically in China back in January, and "Vivo". It's pretty fitting since Sony made a deal with Netflix to stream their upcoming films next year. The animation studio has been producing some hit-and-miss products for families since 2006, with their best one so far being "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" in my eyes. From the looks of its reviews, it appears that the studio has another critical hit on its hands. Was it able to prove me right with those calculations? Let's find out.
The story follows Katie Mitchell (Jacobson), an aspiring filmmaker who lives with her dysfunctional family, which consists of her father Rick (McBride), mother Linda (Rudolph), and younger brother Aaron (Rianda). Katie doesn't usually see eye-to-eye with Rick, who isn't into technology as much as his family. Rick then decides to take them on a road trip for one last bonding experience before Katie goes off to film school in California. Their family bonding time was quickly interrupted by a robot uprising lead by a rogue AI named PAL (Colman), who was created by Dr. Mark Bowman (Andre). With the whole world resting in their hands, the Mitchells must learn to come together as a family and shut down PAL for good. The film has the usual ingredients you would expect from a Sony Pictures Animation project: frenetic energy, vibrant colors, surreal humor, and a well-known celebrity voice cast. The glue that holds these qualities together is its themes. Not only did the film's story showcase the importance of family, but it also represented some social commentary about the reliance on technology. Whether it's cell phones, iPads, or even video game consoles, technology has been a handy tool for society and will continue to do so until the end of time. However, it does have its faults in terms of how we use them. We've become so reliant on our tech that we often lost connection with the people around us. So to give credit where it's due, we have an animation studio that's not Disney and Pixar tackling this type of commentary in an animated film. But does its attempt translate into another hit for families? Absolutely! Under the direction of Rianda and packed with a ton of visual creativity, the film is a hilarious and superbly entertaining comedy that celebrates the power of weirdness and a connection more powerful than an internet server. One of the things that worked for me was its story. Despite its predictable plot elements, the film had enough heart and wit in its quirky script to provide some suitable depth in its characters, especially Katie and Rick, as well as its themes. It's also well-paced, constantly hectic, and stylishly amusing. It's just like any other film from Sony Pictures Animation, but more tolerable. The voice cast was also delightful in their roles, ranging from Jacobson as Katie to Olivia Colman as PAL, who happened to be one of the best parts of the film, in my opinion. PAL is the type of antagonist who balances their menacing persona with comedy, resulting in a fun baddie that I couldn't help but love. This was all thanks to Colman's brilliant voice work. I also immensely enjoyed the malfunctioning PAL robots (voiced by Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett, respectively) who assist the Mitchells. When it comes to comedy, these two robots know how to obey their programming. Speaking of which, I already mentioned that the film was hilarious, but I'm going to repeat it anyway. This film was absolutely hysterical. Everything about the humor worked exceptionally well in its favor, such as the visual gags, the dialogue, and the commentary. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have made some stellar comedies throughout their careers, and I'm happy to say that this is one of them. Another thing that stood out to me was the film's animation. It's like if "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" married "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", and they have a baby together. That baby turned out to be "The Mitchells vs. the Machines", and my God, was it adorable! The lighting, the colors, the 2D sketch effects. They all looked top-notch from start to finish. It didn't come close to what "Into the Spider-Verse" offered, but it did show that the animation studio's creativity is still there. It's one of the films that express surreal imagination through the art of animation and delivers solid storytelling to back it up.
Overall, like the titular family, "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" is not only downright wacky, but it's also insanely charming and fun. Sure, it did have some minor glitches in its storytelling. However, its system has enough humor, heart, and style to overcome these irritating flaws. The story and characters were well-developed, the comedy was surreal and hilarious, and the animation was imaginatively unique. It didn't overthrow "Into the Spider-Verse" as the best film from Sony Pictures Animation, but it came pretty close. It also further proves that the studio has improved upon themselves in terms of their storytelling, and I hope they continue down that path in the future. If you and your family are looking for something weird, fast-paced, and undeniably heartwarming, this film is your best bet.