Delightful family film delivers quick-witted laughs
The Mitchells vs. The Machines
Rated PG for action and some language
1 hour 53 minutes
Streaming on Netflix
May 12, 2021
Originally titled Connected and slated to arrive in theaters last fall, the superb new animated comedy The Mitchells vs. the Machines is now available on Netflix for families everywhere to binge. It’s a movie packed with so many laughs and warm moments that rewatches will feel warranted.
It comes courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation and Lord/Miller Productions, the same collaboration that yielded amazing results with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse a few years ago. Like that film, Mitchells starts off with concepts and characters that feel very familiar. It also demonstrates a willingness early on to dig deeper with some exceptionally sharp writing and direction.
The titular family is, by their own admission, a bit of an odd bunch. There’s Katie (Abbi Jacobson), an aspiring film student who makes goofy but inspired movies starring her younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) and their derpy pug Monchi (“voiced” by celebrity pet Doug the Pug). Her mother Linda (Maya Rudolph) is supportive of their endeavors, but her techno-resistant father Rick (Danny McBride) finds himself growing distant from his smartphone-addicted daughter, made worse after he accidentally totals her laptop.
In a well-intentioned but blatantly impulsive act of repentance, he cancels Katie’s California-bound flight and packs up the family for one last cross-country road trip over orientation week. As bad luck would have it, their trek coincides with a robot uprising brought on by out-of-control virtual assistant PAL (Olivia Colman).
Rianda, who also serves as director and co-writer with Jeff Rowe, tackles well-worn subjects like reliance on glowing devices and “quirky” dysfunctional families through a completely fresh lens. Cross-generational attitudes about the prevalence of technology are often portrayed one-dimensionally in the media, but The Mitchells vs. the Machines doesn’t settle for an easy conversation about it.
Katie’s preference to live her life through a screen bothers her dad, and Rick’s helplessness in navigating the internet embarrasses his daughter, but the film seeks to bridge the gap with empathy between the two camps. The virtues and pitfalls of the natural world and the AI-driven technoscape are explored with a welcome amount of even-handedness and intelligence.
Humor also helps solidify these bonds, and this movie has enough gags to keep viewers of all ages laughing. What family can’t relate to Rick’s plea that everyone put their phones down for 10 seconds of uninterrupted eye contact with one another, only to find that it’s more awkward and unnatural than it sounds?
With references to works that range from the more recognizable The Dukes of Hazzard and Kill Bill to more niche picks like Portrait of a Lady on Fire and They Live, there’s an unquestionable amount of inspiration behind the innumerable jokes.
This is also one of the first films I’ve seen that manages to keep up the breakneck pace of Gen Z comedy, implementing TikTok rhythm and meme culture in a way that doesn’t feel condescending or contrived.
The stacked voice cast ties everything together, with Jacobson and McBride effortlessly selling the heartfelt father-daughter dynamic while scoring huge laughs along the way. SNL alum Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett are downright hilarious as a pair of defective robots who unwittingly guide the Mitchells, while Eric André finds himself in a rare straight-man role as a foil to Colman’s exceedingly witty PAL.
Chrissy Teigen and John Legend naturally play the picture-perfect Posey family next door, whose seemingly obvious fate is subverted in a nicely choreographed punchline.
Set to a raucous and upbeat soundtrack that perfectly matches its idiosyncratic verve, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is wise and weird in all the best ways.
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