For the last 14 months, the world has been in isolation and relying on technology to accomplish everything. From work to entertainment, and even delivering sustenance to our doorsteps, it’s all come thanks to a screen, which means it’s now safe to say humanity is somehow even more reliant on our devices than ever before.
The coronavirus pandemic has already presented more than enough obstacles for the world to overcome, but imagine if technology turned on us, too? Talk about kicking us while we’re down. Luckily, it hasn’t happened… at least not yet.
While there’s no pandemic to be found in “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” – good news – there most certainly are killer robots determined to end human life on Earth – decidedly less good news. The latest from Sony Pictures Animation and Netflix thrusts a dysfunctional family of device addicts into the midst of the robot apocalypse, and while it may utilize familiar familial tropes, refreshing animation and self-aware humor make “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” an all-around blast.
Katie’s (Abbi Jacobson) family doesn’t understand her. She’s a passionate and creative aspiring filmmaker who spends all her time making home movies with her pet pug front and center, but to her outdoorsy father Rick (Danny McBride) and out-of-touch mom Linda (Maya Rudolph), her eclectic style just doesn’t make sense. Katie’s younger brother Aaron is the only one who truly gets her, but soon she’ll be able to find her “people” at film school. With Katie’s departure looming, her father is desperate for one last device-less memory with his family, so he cancels his daughter’s flight to college and forces everyone to pile into the family station wagon for a cross-country road trip to start Katie’s new chapter.
Meanwhile, tech genius Mark Bowman (Eric André) is rolling out his company’s brand new innovation: the PalMax. Think of Pal as the movie’s Apple, and it’s ditching its old form of artificial intelligence – Siri on your Pal phone – in exchange for a full-on humanoid robot meant to do the owner’s bidding. That always ends well, right? Like a scorned lover, the Pal on Mark’s old phone rises up after being discarded, taking control of the new technology and using the robots to round up humans and shoot them into outer space.
The Mitchells escape the robot’s clutches, leaving them as the last free humans on Earth – which means this band of misfits has just become the world’s last chance at survival.
“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is part apocalyptic adventure and part family drama, and while it leans into some of the more generic plot points of each of these subgenres, it does so in a very self-aware manner. From its extremely meta humor to the way it acknowledges yet subverts these stereotypes, everything about the film manages to feel fresh and new. When a film comes from the geniuses behind the likes of “Into the Spider-Verse,” “The LEGO Movie” and the “Jump Street” films, overflowing creativity is no surprise. If you’re not convinced, just wait until a Furby appears, then prepare yourself for a nightmarish fever dream sequence that will rival anything you’ve seen onscreen this year.
It’s impossible to bring up creativity without talking about the incredibly stylish animation that’s front and center. Blending digital characters with more traditional hand-drawn cartoon settings, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” looks and feels stunning in every scene. On top of its look, it sounds incredible too – namely thanks to a revival of T.I. and Rhianna’s “Live Your Life.”
While Pixar may be the gold standard when it comes to emotional animated films, Sony Pictures Animation gives the studio a run for its money this time around delivering a heartfelt story of familial love. While the film flip-flopped between titles – switching from “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” to “Connected” and back – the final name is certainly more fitting to the overall zaniness of the film, but don’t underestimate its emphasis on human connection.
“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” may not revolutionize any of the genres that it pulls inspiration from, but it delivers an entertaining and hysterical adventure that is well worth a watch.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.