Dystopia meets dysfunction in fun The Mitchells vs. the Machines

There are few filmmakers working today who are more versatile than Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Together, the duo has written, directed, or produced some of the most inventive and funniest films of the last decade or so, including the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs series, the 21 Jump Street series, The Lego Movie series, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Their latest film, this time as producers, is The Mitchells vs. The Machines, an animated film that takes our increasing reliance on smart technology to apocalyptic extremes. The Mitchells – dad Rick (Danny McBride), mom Linda (Maya Rudolph), daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson), and son Aaron (co-writer/co-director Michael Rianda) – are kind of a disaster as a family unit, as they’re rarely on the same page and can’t seem to find time to spend together, especially with Katie about to head off to college.

Rick aims to fix this with a family road trip to take Katie to campus, a journey that just so happens to coincide with a complete technology takeover by Pal (Olivia Colman), everyone’s favorite virtual assistant. As Pal and her robot army proceed with a plan to imprison the entire human race and ship them off to space, the Mitchells are somehow the only ones to evade capture. It’s up to them and their dysfunction to find a way to defeat the robots and bring order back to Earth.

Co-written and directed by Rianda and Jeff Rowe, the film explodes with energy with its focus on Katie and her creative output. Katie has made films since a young age, and her unique vision is seen not only in the films she makes but also in the film we’re watching, as all manner of symbols and images pop up on screen to emphasize certain scenes. The result is chaotic and kinetic, showing off a sense of fun that rarely wanes in the film’s almost two-hour running time.

The film isn’t short on heartfelt emotions, either. Pains are taken to show how Rick and Katie’s relationship has changed over the years, a dilemma with which many parents and kids grapple. However, the concentration on that bond gives somewhat short shrift to Aaron and especially Linda, who remains mostly a cheerleader for the majority of the film.

The revolt by technology is a concept that’s been imagined in a variety of stories for decades, so the film doesn’t break any new ground here, especially with its monolithic robot army. The filmmakers do score points by offering up a few fun robot voice cameos along the way, including Conan O’Brien, Blake Griffin, Fred Armisen, and Beck Bennett.

The seasoned comedic voices of Jacobson, McBride, and Rudolph make the Mitchells a funny group throughout the film, although Rianda gives himself some of the best bits as Aaron. An extended bit about the Mitchells’ neighbors, the Poseys, being the ideal family is humorous more for the visuals than for the fact that real-life married couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen play the husband and wife.

Pixar has rightfully held the crown for best animation studio over the last 25 years, but Lord & Miller continue to show that their influence in the field should be as respected as anyone else. The Mitchells vs. the Machines‘ theatrical release was a victim of the pandemic, but it’s a boon for Netflix, which now boasts another great animated film on its service.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is streaming exclusively on Netflix.

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