‘The Mitchells vs. The Machines’ Review
by Rebecca Ferman, Staff-Writer
It’s one thing to go on a road trip with your dysfunctional family, but it’s a whole new ballpark to do so when you all are humanity’s last stand against an evil technology.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines was released onto Netflix on April 30, 2021. Also titled “Connected,” the film was supposed to come out in theaters during the summer of 2020 from Sony Pictures Animation studios, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was pushed back to the following year. Netflix bought the rights from Sony and changed the title from “Connected” back to the original.
This is director and co-writer Michael Rianda’s first film, having previously worked on the Disney Channel show Gravity Falls. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are the producers – and the advertising for the film feels a bit misleading, as though they’re the ones who wrote and directed it all. Yes, they’re behind past Sony releases like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but this is very much Rianda’s film. While tropes in the movie are reminiscent of other Lord/Miller productions (families having trouble bonding, finding one’s true self, awkward humor), the animation is stylized much like a 3-D version of the Gravity Falls show if it met a Snapchat filter. And it works in the film’s favor – Rianda’s debut is nothing short of promising, especially with the writing.
The titular Mitchells consist of quirky filmmaking daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson), outdoorsy father Rick (Danny McBride), supportive mother Linda (Maya Rudolph), and dinosaur-obsessed son Aaron (director Rianda). Rounding out the eccentric family is the bug-eyed dog Monchi, with noises provided by social media famous pup Doug the Pug.
Supporting characters include the smartphone assistant PAL (Olivia Colman), the Mitchell’s picture-perfect neighbors Hailey and Jim Posey (real-life married couple Chrissy Teigen and John Legend), the young technology guru Mark Bowman (Eric Andre), and the damaged robot duo of Eric (Beck Bennett) and Deborahbot 5000 (Fred Armisen). The latter two arguably provide some of the film’s more comical moments, while Colman is having the time of her life voicing PAL, the movie’s solution to software like Alexa or Siri.
The film starts with Katie looking forward to going to her first year of film school, and we get to see the very bright, flashy YouTube videos that she makes with the help of her brother and dog. Rick, feeling like he’s lost touch with his daughter over the years, tries one last time to bond with her by taking the entire family on a car trip to drop her off at college. It’s not that the family hates each other at all; the friction lies more that the father and daughter find it hard to relate to each other due to their differing interests. A more honest title may have been “Parents vs. Gen Z vs. The Machines,” but that may have been a bit too lengthy to say.
While on the road trip, a new form of home technology is released to the general public – and almost immediately turns against humanity. Incredibly and hilariously, the Mitchells are the only people left against the robots, so it’s up to them to put aside differences, find the root cause of the technology uprising, and put a stop to it once and for all. This includes one of the more memorable scenes of the movie where the family fights their way through a shopping mall and faces off against a giant Furby and its army. Dawn of the Dead is referenced here – and frankly, put to shame.
It’s for the best that Netflix went back to the original title, as “Connected” would have felt too on the nose for the film’s message. In this way, the audience gets to see that it’s not just about the Mitchell family battling technology – it’s also about the Mitchell family butting heads over interests, but ultimately loving each other regardless.
The underlying message about the importance of being close to family is pretty evident throughout the film. But there’s also another message about the possibility of change. People and bots alike have the ability to learn new information and change based on what they now know, and we get to see that develop in characters throughout. It’s a nice message to send to the audience, particularly given the current social climate right now.
One small criticism about the film is that there are a couple of moments where the animated effects feel too in-your-face and hyperactive, mainly when Katie is showing her family the videos she made. But perhaps that was done on purpose, that we’re supposed to feel as bewildered and bemused about the video as much as Rick is. Otherwise, the Snapchat-like effects present throughout the movie help us see Katie’s unique, fun, filmmaking perspective of the world around her and add to the gorgeous overall animation.
Ultimately, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is absolutely a film worth watching. It’s refreshing, funny, heartfelt, colorful, and a love letter to the good craziness that can be a family. If the stylized animation doesn’t catch your eye, then the plot and characters sure will. And even if you can’t decide at the end of the day how to feel about the film, you can agree on one thing: Furbys are still pretty terrifying.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines is currently available to watch on Netflix with a subscription.