The thing that makes The Mitchells vs. the Machines stand out as a unique film, but also as an exquisite piece of modern pop art, is that it's the first truly meme-conscious movie. It's not that the movie is actively pushing its own meme formats over a meaningful story, but that it embraces the creative appeal of this online method of communicating to create its own visual language. On its face, address this could paint the picture of the animated movie being cringe-inducing, yet the persistent optimism and genuine disposition of the movie makes it all work, and from the first frame it is fully entrenched in the vibrant and colorful world of stickers, filters, and social media buzzwords, all for the better.
Telling the tale of a family on the run from killer robots, rooted in an anti-technocratic screed against telecom companies, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is also a movie that tries to make sense of generational in-fighting and bickering. Though humans battling robots and a sinister A.I. are the surface-level conflict, the internal one (and the through-line of the narrative) is the way Abbi Jacobson's Katie Mitchell and Danny McBride's Rick Mitchell continue to butt heads and stumble over each other in the search of common ground as a father and daughter from different generations. It's a story that anyone can connect to; we all remember when our parents just didn't understand.
Jacobson and McBride are geniuses in the movie and the only part of the large voice-acting roster that doesn't have a weak spot. Starring alongside them is Maya Rudolph as family matriarch Linda Mitchell, whose arc is also poignant, plus co-writer/director Mike Rianda as younger brother Aaron, a dinosaur-obsessed hyperactive child that everyone can relate to. Other character actors and surprise voices like Beck Bennett, Eric Andre, Chrissy Teigen, Blake Griffin, and Conan O'Brien also appear, but the family are the focus and the defining performances of what will no doubt be an Oscar contender this time next year.
Hailing from a script by Rianda and co-director Jeff Rowe, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is also produced by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The LEGO Movie's Phil Lord and Chris Miller, maintaining their trademark creativity throughout in both inventive animation and unique sequences. Car chases across a near-apocalyptic landscape, battles with Furbies in a mall, and a Wizard of Oz-like infiltration gives this movie its lifeblood and it makes you wish that everything could be this well constructed and thought through.
Frankly, the only thing that is remotely disappointing about the movie is the instances where the focus shifts from the Mitchells themselves. These scenes, primarily between Andre's Mark and Olivia Colman's PAL, are needed for larger plot machinations and exposition, but, in a way, they slow down the entire momentum of the story. Huge and hilarious set-pieces with the family use these scenes as a bridge to their next bombastic moment, yet with each cutaway from the Mitchells comes a total shutdown on pacing. Even then, the action always comes back to them in the end and it's like watching actual magic when they're all together on screen.
The core of The Mitchells vs. the Machines is its message of the importance of creativity. Jacobson's Katie expresses herself through visual storytelling throughout the movie, and it's the family's ability to improvise and overcome the banality of life with a unique perspective that ends up saving the day. Though the movie will be released in theaters ahead of its streaming debut, it's disappointing that there won't be flocks of families getting to see this on the biggest screen possible together, but maybe watching it at home as a unit will make its message resonate even more.0comments
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Mitchells vs. the Machines will debut in select theaters Friday, April 23rd, and will be available for streaming on Netflix on Friday, April 30th.