The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)
Directors: Michael Rianda, Jeff Rowe
Screenwriters: Michael Rianda, Jeff Rowe
Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi
Between Into the Spider-Verse and The Mitchells vs the Machines, Sony Pictures Animation are in a league of their own. Nobody else is creating animated features with the same energy, emotion and visual uniqueness quite like the creatives currently found at this studio.
Aspiring filmmaker Katie’s (Abbie Jacobson) plans to start college and finally “find her people” are scuppered by her dad Rick’s (Danny McBride) misguided insistence that they bond one last time on a road trip that will take Katie on the scenic route to college. On the way in and amongst all the expected family squabbles, a planet-spanning robot uprising caused by the scorned operating system of the world’s largest tech company occurs and forces the Mitchells to pretend to be a fully-functioning family unit for the sake of the human race’s survival.
Like Spider-Verse, Mitchells looks like nothing else. It’s CG-animated, but incorporates hand-drawn elements, live-action footage, even DIY puppetry (sometimes all in the same shot). The pitch for both films by producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller was to retain the rough energy and dynamism seen in early concept art and storyboards for animated movies in the final product, and that target has been hit dead-centre.
Early on, the Mitchells are branded by a helpful on-screen graphic as the “worst family of all time”. The fact that the first we see of them is their haphazard attempted escape from the robo-apocalypse in a crappy brown station wagon while completely and utterly failing to coordinate their actions or work together fully cements this idea. Certainly on the surface, compared to perfect human beings their neighbours the Poseys (Chrissy Teigen, John Legend and Charlyne Yi) appear to be, the Mitchells seem to be found wanting, to put it mildly. But ultimately, this is a film about why none of that really matters.
Writer-directors Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, and their passionate animation team, bring to life a vivid and beautiful CG/hand-drawn hybrid world and story that’ll leave you crying with laughter and just plain crying, especially if you’re from a family of weirdos yourself. When this project was originally announced it was called ‘Connected’ so it’s highly appropriate that that’s what it’s all about: human connection.
On the cry-laughing front the visual inventiveness and quick-fire rate of the gags is in danger of leaving you needing medical attention from inadequate oxygen supply, everything from the family pulling grotesque faces at Rick as he insists on phones down and eye contact during their evening meal to Katie’s liberal peppering of knowing movie references (only the slightest bit annoying), from youngest Mitchell Aaron (Mike Rianda) getting upset over non-anatomically correct dinosaurs to the surreal nightmare fuel that is a giant demonic Furby declaring “Let the dark harvest begin!”. Monchi, the family’s pug with astigmatism, probably deserves to be a thesis focus all his own, acting as the family’s mascot and whose unique shape hilariously proves to be a robot Achilles heel as they malfunction trying to decide what he actually is (“dog-pig-dog-pig-LOAF OF BREAD!”).
This is one of the great dysfunctional family films about parents and children who mean well but continually fail to communicate, who are ultimately both helped and hindered by modern technology along the way. Katie processes her experiences and expresses herself through technology, through making her art, and Rick does the same through handmade craftsmanship and outdoor experiences. They inevitably clash over their very different views of the world and out of guilt at having grown apart as Katie has gotten older. Ferocious father-daughter arguments over fundamental misunderstandings rack up one after the other before it is revealed just how much Rick has sacrificed for Katie’s sake and how their bond can be repaired, stronger than ever (that’s the just plain old crying part of this movie). The final “Live Your Life” musical action sequence is a real punch-the-air feelgood moment and a wonderful conclusion to both characters’ arcs.
The Mitchells vs the Machines is also notable for its LGBTQ+ representation, having Katie front-and-centre, visible and not closeted despite the added hurdles it would give the film to be sold in some international territories. Her sexuality isn’t an issue to her or her family, it’s just a part of the many facets that make up Katie Mitchell alongside her imagination, her goofy sense of humour and her complete loyalty to her often annoying family.
It’s telling of the completely genuine place the film comes from that its end credits feature cast and crew family photos and the real inspirations behind the Mitchell clan. The Mitchells vs the Machines is another game-changer from Sony, a hilarious, inventive and big-hearted family sitcom turned disaster movie that, in 2021, proved to be one of the few genuinely bright sparks of hope released in a particularly trying year.
Recommended for you: Sony Pictures Animation Movies Ranked