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‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’: Family bonding, but with robots

| Friday, May 7, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

It’s a tale as old as time: a quirky teenage girl’s dreams are stifled by a parent who just doesn’t get her. But this age-old story is thrown for a loop when the robot apocalypse begins.

When an Apple-esque tech company accidentally instigates the machine apocalypse, the Mitchells are the only ones left to save the world. Their family-bonding road trip to drop the daughter, Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), off at film school turns into a family-bonding road trip to destroy the leader of the robot takeover: a smartphone turned supervillain played by Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Coleman. This dysfunctional family isn’t anyone’s first choice to be humanity’s saviors, but with a lot of creativity and determination, the Mitchells are ready to save the day — if they can manage to get along for five seconds.

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is nonstop fun, jam-packed with gorgeously animated action scenes and hilarious gags. The film was produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the same men who created “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “The Lego Movie,” and it is heavily influenced by the humor and art style of those films.

The visuals of the film are truly outstanding. Every action scene is a beautiful cacophony of bright colors and multiple moving parts that’s impossible to look away from. It’s sometimes hard to know what to focus on, but the visuals are always entertaining. Along with the thrilling action sequences, there’s always careful attention paid to minute character details throughout the movie. One detail that stuck out to me was the reminders written on Katie’s hand. It’s such a tiny detail, but it helps add depth to Katie’s character, showing how her mind works at a mile a minute. This is the type of movie that warrants re-watching if you want to appreciate all the visual details. The film has a distinct art style that has 2D drawings layered over the CGI animation, which was greatly inspired by “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” This layering technique gives the film a more hand-drawn feel, reminiscent of older cartoons, and it sets the film apart from other animated features.

Along with the stellar animation, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is genuinely funny. It was written and directed by two former “Gravity Falls” writers, Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, so what else could you expect? The way the jokes were structured reminded me of the humor in “Gravity Falls,” so if you enjoyed the humor in that show, you’ll find this movie funny. Every member of the Mitchell family has their own funny moments, from the dinosaur obsession of younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) to the sudden transformation of mother Linda (Maya Rudolph) into a ruthless robot destroyer. The jokes are clever and quick, so if one doesn’t land for you, there’ll be another one-liner or visual gag just around the corner.

While the humor was excellent, some of the emotional moments fell a bit flat for me. The main tension in the film is between Katie and her father Rick (Danny McBride), who just don’t seem to get each other. Katie is an oddball and an aspiring filmmaker, and her more old-fashioned, nature-loving dad isn’t entirely supportive of her ambitions. Generational conflicts like these are so prevalent in media that you know how the story beats are meant to play out, and I thought the film was a bit too obvious with them. Considering this is a children’s movie, this heavy-handedness is forgivable, and the strengths of the film make up for it.

Overall, this film was an absolute joy to watch, and if you need an extra boost of serotonin before finals week, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” has my whole-hearted recommendation.


Movie: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Mike Rianda, Doug the Pug

Directors: Mike Rianda, Jeff Rowe

If you liked: “Gravity Falls,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “The Lego Movie”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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