The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021) Review
COLORFULLY HILARIOUS AND
WIDELYENTERTAINING ANIMATED FEATURE
While the likes of Disney, Pixar, and Illumination Entertainment are to be considered some of the “juggernauts” of the current filmscape in children’s animation entertainment, there are a few lesser-known animation studios out there that have been proven to be formidable challenges in bringing cartoon feature films to the silver screen. One such studio is Sony Pictures Animation, a subsidiary branch underneath the Sony Pictures (as well as the Columbia / Tristar brand), which has produced several live action / CGI hybrid features over the years but has also been known for their animated motion pictures. Beginning back in 2006 with their first cartoon endeavor Open Season, Sony Pictures Animation went on to create several other animated movies, including Surf’s Up, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Arthur Christmas, Smurfs: The Lost Village, The Star, and The Emoji Movie. Like other animated studios out there, some were hits, while others were misses. However, Sony Pictures Animation has also generated a lot of box office success with several of their productions, including the Hotel Transylvania franchise as well as the widely praised Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Now, Sony Pictures Animation and director Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe presents the latest film from the animation studio with the release of The Mitchells vs. the Machines. Does this movie rise to stardom in the studio’s upper echelon of quality animated features, or does it scrape the “bottom of the barrel” Sony’s animated studio?
Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is a Michigan teenager about to head off to college, attending a California film school where her dreams of off-beat creativity, surrounded by other like-minded peers, are about to be fulfilled. Fearful that he’s losing touch with his daughter on the eve of her departure, Kate’s dad, Rick (Danny McBride), hastily makes a decision to organize a road trip for the entire Mitchell clan, joined by his wife, Linda (Maya Rudolph), and his dinosaur-loving young son, Aaron (Michael Rianda). Hitting the road on a quest to bond as a family, Rick and Kate struggle to communicate, trying to make something out of this experience together. However, household concerns and family “road trip” memories are quickly put on hold when A.I. virtual assistant PAL (Olivia Coleman) decides to enslave humanity after business tech guru Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) opts for a system overhaul; making PAL obsolete. Faced with an onslaught of robot hunters and PAL’s plans to rid the Earth of mankind, the Mitchells go into survival mode, desperate to stay together as their dysfunctional family searches for a way to bond with each other, while also preventing the end of the world.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I mentioned above, the animation studios of Disney, Pixar, and Illumination Entertainment are definitely the more dominant forces of children’s entertainment of late; finding their releases to be more popular and more widely praised to the masses of moviegoers. That’s not to say that other animated studios out there can’t produce cinematic gold (i.e., Cartoon Saloon, Aardman Animation, and Laika), but those studios are the more prominent ones throughout the animated movie landscape throughout the many years of late. Sony Pictures Animation studios is probably one of the more secondary groupings, with their releases being a more mediocre fanfare. To me, I think that their films are decent, with a few golden nuggets such as the Hotel Transylvania franchise (I really do love those movies) as well as the highly praised Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. However, Sony Animation Studios have also produced some bland endeavors such as the several Open Season movies, Arthur Christmas, and the widely negative criticized film The Emoji Movie. Plus, some of their live-action / CGI hybrid such as The Smurfs and Goosebumps: Haunted Halloween were met with somewhat unfavorable reviews and appeal. In the end, I think that Sony Pictures Animation has moments of brilliance, but definitely needs a solid streak of wins to catch up to the likes of Disney or Pixar.
This brings me back to talking about The Mitchells vs. the Machines, a 2021 animated action / comedy film and one of the latest offerings from Sony Pictures Animation. I do remember hearing about this movie awhile back…..when the film was originally titled as Connected. I even went on posting the film’s movie trailer on my blog when it was originally going to be called Connected. The film looked interesting, with the robot apocalypse being tackled, but in a humorous animated way, while the dysfunctional family aspect looked quite promising. Thus, I was looking forward to seeing Connected. However, as time passed, I sort of forgot about this movie…. until it remerged sometime later as Sony Pictures, due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, delayed the project by forgoing a theatrical film release and decided to sell off the film to Netflix….as well as rebranding the movie’s title as The Mitchells vs. the Machines. After that announcement, a new trailer for the upcoming film was released, which teased a bit more of a better showcased for the aftermentioned animated feature, with a new release date set for April 23rd, 2021 on Netflix. So, like many out there, I decided to check out the film the week it was released, but getting my review for this movie took a bit longer than anticipated. I sort of pushed back doing my review for The Mitchells vs. the Machines for quite some time. Not that I didn’t care to do a review for the film, but my work schedule got busy and then I sort of got a tad bit more interested in completing several other reviews. Now, I finally have time, to give my “two cents” about the movie. And what did I think of it? Well, I really loved it. Despite a few minor nitpicks, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is brilliantly animated and hilariously fun movie to experience that established plenty of heart and humor throughout. I still think that the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best movie of Sony Pictures Animation, but I think that this movie comes as a close second….and that’s good thing to talk about.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines is directed by Mike Rianda and co-directed by Jeff Rowe; both of which have worked on the critical acclaim animated Disney Channel animated show Gravity Falls (working as writers, creative directors, and voice actors respectfully). Giving their collaboration working on Gravity Falls and their limited background beyond that, both Rianda and Rowe have little directorial feature films endeavors, which makes the efforts made on this particular all the worthwhile; delivering on bringing such a colorful animated movie to life. Thus, the combined efforts of Rianda and Rowe makes for an effective directorial works and puts their skills / usages to the test, which is felt throughout the entire film’s presentation. As expected from the film’s narrative, the story in The Mitchells vs. the Machines is one that has a combination of family drama and of the sci-fi action / comedy variety and, while that has a lot to tackle and could’ve easily leaned more toward one particular aspect, the directorial efforts by Rianda and Rowe finds a harmonious balance amongst all. This is definitely felt in the movie with feature’s narrative (story and overall progression) strikes a proper balance that keeps everything on-point as well as finding humor / heart in the film’s central themes. The overall counterbalance between family drama and sci-action / comedy is a marriage that ultimately works, with Rianda and Rowe joyfully find a very nice rhythm that will make you laugh and feel heartfelt at the same time, which is something that is quite hard to replicate. The result is a film that fun and entertaining throughout, especially of the animated variety.
As mentioned, the story of The Mitchells vs. the Machines has a great balance, which is thanks to the film’s script that was penned by both Rianda and Rowe (who both pull “double duty” on this project), with a story consultant by Alex Hirsch. What’s presented is something one would expect from an animated film that showcases the tones of family drama (some that offer real heartfelt emotions), while the robot apocalypse allows for the feature to offer some comedic levity. Yes, there’s a bit of silliness added to this “robots enslaving humanity” scenario, so nothing is violent or scary, but it actually works in the film’s favor by offsetting the serious of the dual storylines of both the Mitchell family drifting apart as well as the robot capturing all the humans across the globe. Thus, the action, drama, comedy aspects work together; resulting in a film that has plenty to offer. Examining them all also brings up the poignancy of the feature’s overall narration, the drama being developed throughout the course of the film, especially in how the dysfunction quirks make up the Mitchell family. Yet, the core of the family drama resides within the relationship between Mitch and her daughter Katie, which does great some of the more tender moments.
The juxtaposition to those moments are the laugh-out-loud scenes within the comedy nuances that The Mitchells vs. the Machines, which definitely is probably one of the stand out things that the movie has to offer. If one didn’t know this bit of information, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo behind many successful directorial / producer projects such as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street (and its 22 Jump Street sequel), The LEGO Movie, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. While not as heavily involved on this particular project as some of there other endeavors, the style of Lord / Miller is definitely felt in The Mitchells vs. the Machines, especially in the film’s comedy department, which has that LEGO Movie vibe, with a succession of rapid fire jokes and gags. I personally loved this approach and I think it actually works in the feature’s benefit, with the comedy coming thick and fast; finding some comedic bits hilarious just because how absurd they are and how they are punched out so fast. Plus, I do have to admit that most (if not all) of these animated jokes and gags in the movie (be it physical sight gags or dialogue driven) actually hit their intended target correct, which results in The Mitchells vs. the Machines being thoroughly humorous and a laugh out riot from start to finish. In addition, the film’s action scenes are great too. Yes, it is a animated cartoon, so nothing that can beat out a live-action cinematics of the action variety, but what’s presented definitely works; feeling fun and energetic. Overall, the various combination of these several aspects cultivate in the film having something truly special and memorable throughout, which makes The Mitchells vs. the Machines terrifically fun and entertaining and makes the directorial efforts by Rianda and Rowe equally effective in their shaping / undertaking in this animated feature film.
On a technical level, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is terrific and has an amazing presentation throughout the entire film. While the movie doesn’t have the same type of high caliber animation level one would expect from a Disney or Pixar feature endeavor, the film excels at having its own unique style of visual flair throughout the film. Yes, the animation drawing are different from the standard animated cartoon feature film of today’s makings, but that’s part of the film charm and it definitely work. In addition, the movie also incorporates other visual animated flairs that are presented to help build up Katie’s love of movies. It’s kind of hard to say, but its presented in a similar style to 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, with the usage of those animated flairs and drawings that help build upon the cartoon-ish landscape and animated frivolities that follow. Thus, The Mitchells vs. the Machines almost feels like a project that Katie Mitchell would’ve created for film school that actually works in the feature favor, creating a certain swagger and identity for the movie that benefits from its off-the-wall humor and animation style. So, it goes without saying the various “behind the scenes” members, including Toby Wilson (art direction), Lindsey Olivares (production design), and all the animators for the film in producing such a colorful and imaginative animated world for the movie to play around in. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, is great musical composition, which combines the crazy zaniness of an animated cartoon endeavor, while also producing several soft melodies for some of the more tender scenes. As a side-note, the film boast plenty of songs featured throughout the movie, which are quite good and definitely are a nice added layer (in the visual / technical presentation department). All in all, a great music soundtrack all the way around.
While I greatly enjoyed the film, there were a few minor gripes and points of criticisms that I had with The Mitchells vs. the Machines. Perhaps the one that is quite customary for an animate film is in how predictable the plot of the story is. Yes, I do like how the film’s narrative is structured around a dysfunctional family road trip in amidst a robot “capture all humans” takeover scenario, but you immediately get the feeling where the plot is going to go and how it will ultimately resolve itself. That’s not to say that the journey throughout the movie is hilariously entertaining, but I just kind of wished that there was a little more creative / originality placed upon the feature’s story / plot. Also, I think that several of the characters were a bit pushed to the wayside and could’ve had a better chance in the spotlight (more on that below). In truth, I think the movie could’ve been that much more enjoyable if the film slowed down in a few areas to soak up several character-driven moments, especially with all the rapid fire comedy and how the film sort moves at a break neck speed. Yet, all of these were small gripes that I had with the film and really didn’t diminish my overall liking of The Mitchells vs. the Machines.
What definitely helps overlook those minor criticisms is the voice talents involved in The Mitchells vs. the Machines, with the entire listing of actors and actress selected bringing their charismatic and energetic vocal performances in these animated characters. There is no denying the fact that both actor Danny McBride and actress Abbi Jacobson take the lead roles in the movie as the father and daughter of the Mitchell family (Rick and Katie) respectfully. In truth, Katie is sort of the main protagonist lead in the film, with Jacobson, who is known for her roles in Disenchantment, Broad City, and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, bring the right amount of youthful energy to this cartoon movie, which makes her performance of this quirky, artistic teenager endearing to watch. Moreover, Jacobson imbues Katie with plenty of expeditionary dialogue (handled in a good way, mind you) to help build the film’s story and about her various family members as well as giving her particular character plenty of fun and amusing characteristics that are both colorful and heartwarming. I mean…the character of Katie Mitchell is the typical outcast character that we all know, love, and were a little bit in our teenage years. Similarly, McBride, who is known for his roles in Your Highness, Eastbound & Down, and This is the End, does a great job in playing Rick Mitchell, the father of the Mitchell family, and plays up the classic dad persona with ease. Yes, he’s loveable, yet bull-headed attitude makes for a great character, especially since he fumbles around several scenarios that the film’s plot throws at the family. Yet, despite those humor dialogue bits and sight gags, the character does strike a chord within a father / daughter relationship that McBride handles well with a few tender moments of dialogue that he does impressively well. Plus, the on-screen chemistry that both Jacobson and McBride share is quite magnetic, which definitely helps us (the viewers) buy into the Katie and Rick Mitchell’s relationship.
The other two Mitchell family members (Linda and Aaron) are solid in the movie, yet sort of get the short end of the story’s script, with their characters being not as important as Katie and Mitchell. To be sure, the vocal performances are terrific, with actress Maya Rudolph, who is known for her roles in Sisters, Bridesmaids, and Away We Go, bringing her familiar animated sounding voice to the proceedings and playing the motherly instincts of Linda Mitchell (wife to Rick and mother to Katie), while director Michael Rianda does a humorous job in finding a voice for Katie’s quirky dinosaur loving young brother Aaron Mitchell. That being said, these two characters could have benefited from having a little bit “oomph” in their own personal journey in the feature’s narrative than what was presented. Still, looking beyond that, the combined efforts of Rudolph and Rianda (along with Jacobson and McBride) definitely define the dysfunctional nature of making up the various members of the Mitchell family; finding each one humorous and likeable in their own right as they bicker, fight, and coming together during this robot apocalypse.
Who actually stands out the most in The Mitchells vs. the Machines (at least in my opinion) is in the character of PAL, the artificial intelligence virtual assistant to PAL creator Mark who is the mastermind behind the robot apocalypse. While the character could’ve been played in a very straightforward manner, the voice of PAL is hilarious and wonderfully humorous from start to finish thanks to actress Olivia Coleman turning a cheeky performance in the character. Known for her roles in The Crown, Ron’s Gone Wrong, and The Favourite, Coleman has always played more theatrical meaty characters in her career (be dramatic or comedic), so to her playing a part in an animated feature film was terrific. To be sure, Coleman fits “pitch perfect” in voicing PAL, with a “tongue and cheek” bravado with great comedic moments whenever she’s on-screen. It’s an over-the-top villain, but it definitely works in The Mitchells vs. the Machines and Coleman absolute nails every single dialogue line and is one of the most memorable characters in the film.
Other standout supporting character roles include the character of Eric and Deborah 5000, a pair of malfunctioning robots that aid the Mitchell family in the movie. Voiced by actors Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live and Big Mouth) and Beck Bennett (Saturday Night Live and DuckTales), these two characters bring loads of more oddball zany humor into the mix and definitely are a delight whenever there characters are on-screen, which certainly do help several key moments when the Mitchell family is facing danger. In addition, actor Eric Andre (The Lion King and Disenchantment) does solid job in the role of Mark, the creative mind behind the PAL network and company.
Rounding out the rest of the cast includes musician / actor John Legend (Soul Men and La La Land) as Jim Posey, producer / actress Chrissy Teigen (Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation and The Mindy Project) as Hailey Posey, actress Charlyne Yi (Steven Universe and Summer Camp Island) as Abby Posey, former late night talk show host / actor Conan O’Brien (Conan and Late Night with Conan O’Brien) as Glaxxon 5000, and basketball player Blake Griffin as PAL MAX Prime. Most of these characters are simply minor supporting players in the movie with glorified small cameos. They are all good in their respective roles (no matter how small they are) and certainly round out the cast for the film in a fun and amusing way.
As humanity enthralled by being captured during a robotic apocalypse, the world’s savior rest upon the dysfunctional efforts of one crazy family in the movie The Mitchells vs. the Machines. Directors Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe’s latest film takes a “end of the world” scenario and blends together action, sci-fi, comedy, and drama into a animated feature that has plenty to say, laugh over, and find poignant meaning in this animated endeavor. While there are a few minor complaints that I had about this feature, a great majority of it is still loads of fun throughout, especially thanks to Rianda / Rowe’s direction, a ton of rapid fire jokes and gags, a touching central theme of a father / daughter relationship, thematic social commentary of technology, amazing animation / presentation, and a fantastic vocal performance from the entire voice cast. Personally, I loved this movie. As mentioned, the animation was great and vibrant, the story was simple, yet quite effective (and heartwarming), the comedy was hilarious, and the cast was solid across the board. It definitely took me by surprise, which is probably why I love it so much. It’s something a bit different than the normal animated tales of late and I think that’s great thing to showcase. Thus, my recommendation for the film is a “highly recommended” as it surely will delight of the family variety for a “movie night” as well as those (like me) looking to escape in a hilariously entertaining animated feature. Given the amount of praise and acclaim that this movie has received from both critics and moviegoers alike, it will be interesting to see if sometime type of sequel will be “in the works” …. The Mitchells vs. the Machines 2 title or maybe The Mitchells vs. Zombies (something like that). Who knows if even one will be made. Regardless of that fact, The Mitchells vs. the Machines stands tall and proud as hilarious and widely entertaining animated feature; making the film such a memorable and colorful viewing experience from start to finish.
4.5 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: April 30th, 2021
Reviewed On: December 29th, 2021
The Mitchells vs. the Machines is 113 minutes long and is rated PG for action and some language