REVIEW: The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

The Mitchell family (voiced by Maya Rudolph, Abbi Jacobson, Michael Rianda, and Danny McBride) in THE MITCHELLS vs. THE MACHINES — Photo: Sony Pictures Animation / Netflix.

Directed by Michael Rianda (Gravity Falls) — Screenplay by Mike Rianda & Jeff Rowe.

Sometimes it’s difficult to really gauge whether or not the hype for a film is justified or not. From the outset, what I had heard about The Mitchells vs. The Machines sounded really good. The premise was neat, I liked what I had seen of its animation style in trailers, but I wasn’t sure if it would work as a total package once I finally felt ready to sit down and watch the film, which had been on my watchlist for quite some time. The reactions that I had heard from my peers also made it sound like far and away one of the best animated films in years, which was overwhelming information that I didn’t know what to do with at that moment since I was a little bit too busy when it was released. I ended up waiting a considerable amount of time before I finally watched it, which meant that when I finally felt the urge to start up Netflix and watch their Lord & Miller-produced animated hit, the hype had sort of died down at least a little bit. So, having now seen the film, do I think the hype was justified? Well, yeah. Though I was trepidatious initially, the film more than won me over.

Director Michael Rianda’s feature debut, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is an animated film about individuality, family, and how technology has overtaken our lives. The film follows the dysfunctional Mitchell-family in the days leading up to and during a global robot uprising. Early in the film, the family sets out on a Vacation-style road-trip cross-country for the purpose of strengthening the bond between father, Rick (voiced by Danny McBride), and his aspiring filmmaker daughter, Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), before she is dropped off at college. During this roadtrip, in which Rick struggles to make a positive connection, suddenly a highly intelligent and vengeful A.I. activates and takes control over millions of man-made robots. The A.I. (voiced by Olivia Colman) wants to capture all of humanity and send it out into space, but the Mitchells will try to stand in the A.I.’s way.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines, though it isn’t directed by the popular duo, fits right in with many of the other animated modern classics that producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have been associated with. The LEGO Movie feels like a definite inspiration, and, since this film was made by Sony Pictures Animation, it also feels appropriate to mention Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which, like The Mitchells vs. The Machines, also has a very particular and unique visual style. The Mitchells vs. The Machines has this wild and busy hyper-energetic animation style. This distinct animation style, which sometimes features live-action images or YouTube videos on top of the animation, feels particularly modern and hip when paired with the inventiveness of the humor and the technological premise.

Rianda’s film — at least based on the closing credits which featured several real family photos — feels like a deeply personal project. It is also a film that is easy to relate to, and I think people of all ages can enjoy this film. There is an abundance of film references either visually or auditory, and the characters, though sometimes exaggerated, felt real. I saw myself in both of the Mitchell children, and I was even moved to tears a couple of times. This film definitely has a lot of heart and relatability, and, on top of that, some of the voice-work is also quite good with Olivia Colman being a fun voice-actor for the A.I..

However, I do think that the humor and the visual style will be hit-or-miss for audiences. The Instagram filter-esque nature of the visuals can be a lot of fun, but it can also become a little bit tiring. And even though I think the hyper-energetic animation style was really exciting, it can also, on the flip-side, sometimes feel too busy and become quite overwhelming.

Minor gripes aside though, I do think that Michael Rianda’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines feels like a modern classic, and its availability on Netflix will be great for families everywhere. I think what is so special about this film is that it isn’t just all style and no substance. It has a lot of visual flair with its busy hyper-energetic animation style, but it also has a lot of heart, and I can definitely see people of all ages (i.e. all members of the family) enjoy the messages at the heart of this film, such as ‘be yourself,’ put the phone down once in a while, and try to understand and appreciate what your parent or child is passionate about. I think this is definitely one of Netflix’s smartest acquisitions in quite some time, because I think this could actually stand the test of time and be rewatched over and over again by its target audience.

8.7 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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