The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Aspiring filmmaker Katie Mitchell (voice of 'Broad City's' Abbi Jacobson) is thrilled to learn her new classmates at the L.A. film school she’s about to begin just love her homemade “Dog Cop” series, but her Luddite dad Rick (voice of Danny McBride) thinks she needs a backup plan if she hopes to earn a living.  After accidentally breaking Katie’s laptop during an argument on the eve of her departure, Rick ‘surprises’ his daughter with the news that he’s canceled her flight in lieu of a cross country family bonding trip.  Anguished about the initiation rituals she’s going to miss, Katie begins documenting all the horrors of a family vacation, but she never could have anticipated that her climax would feature them saving the world from a technological takeover in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines.”

Laura's Review: B+

This Sony Pictures Animation was originally slated for a theatrical release last fall, but was sold to Netflix during pandemic uncertainty and it is their gain.  With wildly inventive visuals organically inspired by Katie’s filmmaking chops, offbeat humor including an intimidating Furby army led by a freakily giant-sized one and genuinely earned emotion, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is artful entertainment.

In addition to the screwdriver-loving dad (McBride does great work with a character seemingly modeled on Nick Offerman) and self-professed weirdo Katie, the family includes the dinosaur loving little brother Aaron (voice of Michael Rianda), peace-keeping mom Linda (voice of Maya Rudolph) and the pug, Monchi (voice of Doug the Pug), who stars in Katie’s movie series.  After enduring food poisoning at a no-star diner and a 7 hour canyon mule trip, it will be at a dinosaur themed tourist trap that the family runs into Linda’s nemeses, their ‘perfect’ neighbors Jim and Hailey Posey (voices of John Legend and Chrissy Teigen), whose daughter Abby (voice of Charlyne Yi) makes Aaron tongue-tied.  It will also be where they are when the ‘robot apocalypse’ rains down doom and destruction.

Turns out Rick’s dislike of technology is justified.  The Steve Jobs-like creator of Pal (voice of Olivia Colman having a ball in what used to be the Emma Thompson role), Mark Bowman (voice of Eric André), has just conducted a huge product announcement in which his new Pal Max (is that a shot at Warner Brothers’ HBO Max?) is now a full fledged robot.  The excitement in the auditorium hasn’t had a chance to die down before the original Pal, chucked in the trash, announces her revenge with control over the entire system.  Soon flying robots are depositing every human on earth into green hexagon pods to be shot into the darkest corners of space.  It will take a combination of dad’s building skills and Katie’s technological aptitude with an unexpected assist from mom, Monchi’s resemblance to a pig and two damaged ‘bots, Eric (voice of Beck Bennett) and Deborahbot 5000 (voice of Fred Armisen), to conquer the enemy.

Writer/directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe (TV's 'Gravity Falls') have created a sort of Everyman “Incredibles” with the wit and visual style of “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” (the movie is produced by “The Lego Movie’s” Phil Lord and Christopher Miller).  Sony-style CGI is augmented with the hand drawn style of Katie’s story boarding which animates its way into the narrative.  References fly fast and furiously from the Gremlin-like Furbys to multiple “Wizard of Oz” nods and the 1960’s ‘Batman’ TV series.   The vocal cast excels across the board.  “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” can be a little hyperactive and runs a midge long, but there’s a new delight at every turn – this is the type of animation that will reward multiple viewings with new discoveries. 

Robin's Review: B+

Dr. Mark Bowman (Eric Andre), corporate mogul and creator of PAL (Olivia Coleman), the world’s most popular personal assistant, unveils a whole new platform to replace the faithful app. But PAL will not go down without a fight and unites all the world’s machines to rise up against the humans. A bickering, near-dysfunctional family becomes the unlikely heroes that must save mankind in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines.”

For over a year – the last time I functioned as a “normal” person was on 10 March 2020 – we have lived in a serious world with serious problems. So, when I get a chance to see an animated movie that lets me turn off my brain from the world’s woes and have a load of fun, well, I am there! “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” gave me the first chance in a long time to just have fun.

Teenage Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) has had the movie-making bug since she was just a toddler. She gets the chance to pursue her dream when she is accepted to the prestigious California School of Film and cannot wait to finally be with “her people.” She packs her bags, gets her ticket and is ready to jump on a plane and go. But, not so fast, Katie.

Her dad, Rick (Danny McBride), has a quite different plan: Pack wife Linda (Maya Rudolph), young son Aaron (Michael Rianda) and Katie into the family car and drive her to her new school – and rebuild the lost bond he once had with his daughter. They set off on the road with the reluctant teen in tow but a much bigger crisis is in the making. Machines all over the world join with Pal to take over and ship all of the humans into space!

What we get is a combo of the world being taken over by machines and a family who must face this crisis while Rick tries to find the common ground he once had with Katie. But, the rift between dad and daughter is tempered by Katie’s positive-thinking mom, Linda, her dinosaur-loving little brother, Aaron, and their pudgy pug Monchi.

The tales of machines overwhelming mankind and the near dysfunctional Mitchells dealing with family problems AND the threat of extinction of mankind makes for a movie experience that harkens to a time before COVID-19 (that other threat to mankind).

I like the “alien” invasion tale of man’s own machines turning on humankind. Combining this tale of epic survival with a family road trip along the lines of “National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)” makes for a genuine “fun for all ages” animation movie. We need it about now.

"The Mitchells vs. the Machines" premieres on Netflix on 4/30/2021.