The Mitchells vs The Machines employs a successful formula right out of the gate: the new Sony Animation adventure/comedy is engaging and insightful well before the robots enter the picture. It molds a family unit that’s virtually impossible not to fall in love with. Moreover, its world is so energetic and colorful that The Mitchells is easily the best animated film of the year so far. Delayed due to the pandemic, the overall quality proves without a shadow of a doubt that it was worth the wait. Bolstered by a phenomenal voice cast, this is a film I immediately wanted to rewatch as soon as it ended.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines tells the story of one dysfunctional family (the titular Mitchells) as they group together for a road trip to drop off Katie (Abbi Jacobson) for college. Katie’s relationship is rocky with her dad Rick (Danny McBride), but Rick hopes the journey can mend their problems. Katie is still upset that he cancelled her flight, and as she pines to be in sweaty dorms with a homemade slip and slide, trouble brews. The launch of a new series of robots that will act as “walking smartphones” to help with chores (and to streamline everyday life!) goes horribly awry, and the machines quite literally take over the entire world. The Mitchells, somehow the only ones left, team up with their trusty dog and two rogue robots on a madcap adventure that will take them all the way to the Pal Labs campus to face off against the evil app, Pal (Olivia Colman).
A burnt orange 1993 station wagon careens down the road, the passengers inside screaming manically. Confused robotic onlookers notice the vehicle, and thus begins our crazy window into the world of the Mitchells. The structure of the narrative starts us somewhere in the middle of the story, and by the time we loop back around to this exciting opening scene, we have much more insight into how it all started.
The writing was on the wall when I saw names of producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller pop up during the opening credits—behind films like 21 Jump Street, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and The Lego Movie, the duo has a signature brand of meta humor that translates amongst nearly all of their projects. Where else would you hope to find a hamburger that wants to be a Broadway star, Dog cop, a giant Elder Furby, bootleg dinosaurs, and robot sidekicks that draw on their own faces pretending to be human? The Mitchells very much matches the vibe of those earlier films and fully embraces the meta energy of it all. The animated doodles superimposed almost look 2D and add personality and flair in nearly every scene. Obviously the aura of the movie doesn’t belong solely to them: writer/director team Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe do an absolutely incredible job. It leaves me curious to check out their show, Gravity Falls, of which I have heard nothing but amazing things.
Every member of the Mitchell family is cast perfectly, and each has their own explosive arc that pays off in satisfying ways. Not only are they endearingly flawed, but the villain is also downright hilarious. I laughed so hard when Pal has an angry tantrum, vibrating and screaming. Who could be better than Olivia Colman? My favorite character in the movie is Monchi, the family’s pug. He is show-stopping and hilarious, providing some of the film’s biggest laughs. There’s a fun game Katie makes of tricking her dad into being licked by Monchi on every stop they make. I loved how he was the star in all of Katie’s movies, and the pug plays a shockingly huge role in the overall story as well. It’s refreshing to have a family film that puts so much emphasis on the pets, which are neglected or given very minimal roles normally (though The Mitchells is anything but normal!) Whether you think he’s a pig, a dog, or a loaf of bread, Monchi is a lovable mush that I was completely obsessed with every time he appeared. When I learned that Internet icon Doug the Pug provided many of Monchi’s noises and grunts, I was floored. Everyone needs a Monchi!
The touching relationship between father and daughter actually brought me to tears, which was something I had not expected in the slightest. Like the best from Pixar, deeper messages about the importance of family and sacrifice will delight both kids and adults. Underneath the eye-popping visuals and stunning animation, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a bold vision that reminds us to always value family. It can be messy; it can be difficult; and nobody is perfect. Yet at the end of the day, one’s parents are the anchor that docks the boat of life. How you choose to cruise is up to you to decide.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines comes to Netflix on April 30th.