Movie Review: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

The Mitchell's vs. the Machines is about Katie, a filmmaker in training who is very excited to be off to college and rid of her luddite dad. There's an incredible amount of tension between the two of them and as a bonding exercise, Rick, Katie's father, decides to cancel Katie's flight and drive her and the whole family across country to get Katie to school on time. Of course, mid-trip is when the A.I. of the PAL corporation decides it's time to take over the Earth. The film stars the voices of Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Tiegen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi, Blake Griffin, Conan O'Brien, and Doug the Pug. The film is written and directed by Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe. The film is streaming exclusively on Netflix.


The reason I love animation is the no limits philosophy of it all. I like that something can be created whole and without relying on our physical world. What I really respect about certain animated films is how cinematic they can be. A grand, epic scale with more movement and devices that might be employed in a live action film. There are moments in The Mitchells vs. the Machines that transcend the medium and speak to my cinephile heart.


It's hard to know who to credit or praise in an animated feature like this and I will be doing a blanket term, animation department (ani. dept.), for this section.


There are two scenes that made my eyes widen. When the Mitchells have made what is to be their final pit stop at the Dino Cafe there is a lot of craziness happening in the sky above them. As they watch at the windows, there's a sudden explosion and people are thrown backward. Rather than a wide shot of the action, the ani. dept. made the beautiful choice to ratchet up the tension focusing on Katie. We watch her fly backward as the glass shatters and her reaction is real fear.


The scenes that follow this one have repercussions of course and one of the other most beautiful scenes happens as the Mitchells enact what they hope to be their final plan to end the madness, but as Rick is hit with a harsh moment of truth, he slips. Suddenly the ani. dept. switches gears and working with Mark Mothersbaugh's terrific score, creates a moment where I was genuinely terrified for our heroes and felt a strong longing and hope for their safety. Where usually an animated feature goes for a laugh, The Mitchells vs. the Machines leans into the pathos of its characters, brings out the humanity in the pixels.


Credit has to go to co-writers and directors MIchael Rianda and Jeff Rowe. Yes, the plot is incredibly predictable and the story is one that's quite a bit cliché, but it's the emotion behind it that sells every single beat and absolutely every belly laugh. What could have been a simple family squabble story is evolved into the dynamic of family and found family and finding the joy in the people that are the family you can't change. It's a beautiful sentiment to embrace the weird of the people in your family and celebrate that weirdness. This aspect of the story feels unique and welcoming.


This film wouldn't have worked without the incredible talent of the actors involved. After his hard partying persona, who knew Danny McBride could convincingly pull off the role of a dad you can root for. He's got those dramatic chops down with the incredible comic timing he's honed over the years. McBride being boosted of course by the queen herself, Maya Rudolph. There simply isn't anything Rudolph can't do and I loved the great representation of mom strength and the way she can switch between emotions fluidly and convincingly. When I see her name in the credits I know it will be an uncommon delight.


What is unfortunately becoming too common is queer erasure. Yes, Katie wears a pride pin. Yes, there is reference to her and her new friend Jade being more than friends. Yet, I now know that despite these two instances of progress in a film meant to reach a wide audience, it will be so very easy for other groups or countries to make an edit to the film, erasing Katie's queerness entirely from the story. The story isn't about Katie's queerness, it isn't about her finding herself in that space, but if it's going to be part of her identity, the filmmakers should make it a much more prominent part of her. Flirting, a kiss, hand holding, her coming out to an accepting family, references to previous relationships, anything, ANYTHING! to make her queerness bold and unimpeachable. If the studios let markets in other places dictate how art is performed in those places, they're no better than the censors themselves.


I thoroughly enjoyed The Mitchells vs. the Machines. The animation is gobsmackingly gorgeous in all aspects. Don't come for the obvious plot, come for the family drama, the superb acting, and the inventive, silly, comic book, meme and viral video inspired style of logic. I highly encourage you to watch this film.

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