• jessenoland

The Mitchells vs The Machines: A love letter to film, family and weirdness.

Updated: Aug 22

I first heard about this movie in 2020 when Sony had first dropped the trailer for the film whilst it was still under its earlier name Connected and seeing the mixture of 2D tra-digital animation mixed with 3D animation, it was something that was on the top spot of my movies to watch list.


Then the shut downs took place, the byproduct of a international pandemic; movie theaters were shut down, film studios were pushing films back farther and farther, hoping to release them to theaters full of people. Eventually though, many studios opted to go for streaming, much to the chagrin of people, myself included. Retitled as The Mitchells vs The Machines, this film was released in March 2021 on Netflix, almost a full year from when the trailer first dropped.

Despite my disappointment that this film, alongside other animated film were getting the streaming only treatment, I managed to get a copy of the film and gave it a watch on a much smaller screen. After watching the full movie, I have to say it would be given a high place for one of the best animated films of the year.


*Spoilers from this point on*


The Plot and Writing


The premise of the film would follow Katie, a young woman and aspiring filmmaker whose dreams of film school often clash with her traditionalist father Rick whose anti-technological views leads to misunderstanding and miscommunication between the two of them. Following an argument at dinner, Rick tries to create one last bonding memory of the two of them by planning a family road trip, bringing along his wife Linda, Katie, Katie's brother Aaron and the family pug Monchi. Whilst on the road trip, the family soon learns that the robot apocalypse has begun and they have to work together to not just stay safe, but to save the world.

I have to applaud the writing of the movie which knows to give each of the characters an almost equal screen time, giving each of the characters their own arcs and development throughout the story. In a movie like this, it is amazing that none of the main family members are forced to the sidelines. This is also a film that knows that it is a visual medium and has scenes where there is minimal dialogue, where we see characters fully acting out how they feel. One such scene would be towards the beginning of the movie where after dinner, Rick sits down in his chair and watches old movies of him and Katie. We can see how he feels and we can feel the drift that he is feeling. The writing of this movie creates an emotional experience that, for myself at least, had me crying at a few points.

The humor for this movie is well written and I have to say, I am glad that Sony tried their best to avoid some of the common pitfalls of animated movie humor. Unlike their recent animated films such as the Hotel Transylvania series and The Smurfs, there isn't any scatological humor which is one of my pet-peeves of a lot of animated films these days. The humor of this film is brought through the characters, their interactions, foreground and background jokes and they really work.

The few problems with the writing that I would have with this would be that the villain's motive to wanting to get rid of humanity is, in a lack of a better phrase, generic. The movie's villain, an AI named PAL, wants to get rid of humanity because it feels neglected after being hastily replaced by home robots which doesn't really make a lot of sense when you think about it.


The Characters

To say that the characters of this movie are well developed would be an understatement. In an animated movie, these characters feel human and fully fleshed out. They have their flaws and strengths. All of the characters were made believable and sympathetic.

Katie (voiced by Abbie Jacobson) and Rick (voiced by Danny McBride)'s relationship feel authentic. The generational disconnect between these two is realistic and touches close to home. The two of them carry the film with their conversations and interactions. Rick wanting to make sure his daughter will be successful and have a stable career after college reflects the desires and fears of many parents with children have at one point or another in their life. It is also refreshing to see that while he is set in his ways for a large portion of the film, he is entirely against Katie's dreams. Towards the end of the film, when he sees his daughter's viewpoint of their relationship in her movie Dog Cop, he comes to realize what Katie's dreams mean to her.

Katie, a young woman who wants to follow her dreams of film school, is frankly captivating as a character. In the film, she is not shown to be constantly in the right. Towards the end of the movie, after Rick and Linda are taken captive, she is called out for her actions by Aaron. She realizes what she says can have negative consequences and she grows as a character. She is also fun to watch and her weirdness makes the film more enjoyable with her reactions to her family and the situation around her.

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While Aaron and Linda might not have arcs that are as large as Rick and Katie's, they are memorable characters that help the story progress and have their own personal stories. Aaron, Katie's younger brother obsessed with dinosaurs, is adorably funny with his interactions with not just his sister, but his neighborhood crush Abbey. Linda, Katie's mother, who at first comes off as a supportive mother who wants to compete with the seemingly perfect neighbors grows into her own person while giving a moment of pure 'bad-assness' at the climax of the movie as the Valkyrie of robot destruction.

The characters that I feel could have used more characterization would have to be Eric and Deborahbot 5000, the robots that help the Mitchells. They come across as more of literal walking deus ex machinas. While they do grow to want to help the Mitchells, I wish more was done with them. As mentioned before PAL, the AI who plots to get rid of people could have been more fleshed out as well.


The Animation

What can I say about the animation that others have not said before me? The animation is amazing, incorporating trad-digital animation and 3D animation throughout the story. The style of the movie reflects what director Mike Rianda wanted, a "hand-panted, water color design" and it pulls it off perfectly. The colors in the movie pop, especially towards the end of the movie where the Mitchells fight against the robot army. The use of 2D animation for how Katie perceives the world around her, not only creates a lot of visual style for the film, it also creates some of the funnier portions of the film.



Side Notes

When the movie came out, there was a lot of buzz and news about how Katie was the first gay animated protagonist. People were excited that there was finally an LGBT character who was a leading character and not a side/background character. But personally, it is not really something to be fully celebrated. While it is great to have a gay protagonist in an animated film, there is almost nothing in the film that tells us that Katie identifies as a lesbian. The only things that tell us this would be a singular line of dialogue at the very end of the movie as well as the fact that Katie wears a rainbow color pin on her shirt that is barely noticeable. The problem with this is that they are easily missed if you are not paying attention. I can understand why Sony would do this, they want to sell the movie to countries overseas (IE: China, Russia, ETC...) and they need to be able to cut out anything controversial but for an American audience, it still feels like, in a lack of a better phrase, pussyfooting. There can not be any progress towards representation if it can be easily cut out. But this is just my opinion, nothing more.


Conclusion

The Mitchells vs the Machines is a must watch for families and lovers of animation alike. With it's touching and poignant story, well developed characters, stunning animation and personality, this movie shows that we should be holding animated film to higher standards than what we are doing now. Although it makes me sad and frustrated that the next film Sony plans to release this year would be Hotel Transylvania: Transformania.


The Mitchells vs the Machines is available on Netflix.

About Me

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Just your average, everyday film critic. I enjoy film, but am not afraid to call them out for their flaws. 

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