The Mitchells vs. the Machines is immediately something special. That really shouldn’t be any surprise given the movie’s pedigree, it’s the feature directorial debut of Gravity Falls alum Michael Rianda and the most recent animated film from Lord Miller Productions who gave us Into the Spider-verse and The Lego Movie. What makes The Mitchells vs. the Machines immediately stand out is the combination of not just two and three dimensional animation, but the inclusion of live action footage as well, along with a brief but nonetheless very exciting puppet appearance. And yet, this thrillingly new animation style isn’t even the best thing about the movie. The best thing about The Mitchells vs. the Machines is that it packs a hell of an emotional punch.
At the start of the movie, we’re introduced to the family, movie obsessed protagonist Katie (Abbi Jacobson), dinosaur obsessed little brother Aaron (Rianda), outdoor activities and taxidermy obsessed dad Rick (Danny McBride), ever supportive 1st grade teacher mom Linda (Maya Rudolph), and cross-eyed pug Monchi. Katie and Rick used to be best friends but as she’s gotten older, their relationship has deteriorated and now she feels like Aaron is the only one in the family who “gets her.”
The story here isn’t anything new, the fantastical adventure brings the family back together again, but the film makes us care for these characters and develops their relationships in a way that feels powerfully real. Through honest conversations between the family members and the wonderfully effective use of old family videos, these characters find a way into your heart and you become invested in them authentically reconnecting.
And lucky for us the adventure that facilitates that reconnecting is a blast. The plot details are straightforward enough. Tech giant PAL is unveiling new robots to make existing smartphones obsolete, but eponymous virtual assistant PAL (Olivia Colman) refuses to become obsolete and instead takes control of the robots and seeks to quite literally remove humanity from the face of the Earth by rounding us all up and shipping us into the void of space. Of course the Mitchells are the only family to escape this round up so that they can act as humanity’s last hope and hijinks ensue.
The visual inventiveness that shows itself in the film’s opening moments continues throughout and this makes every action sequence feel like something new. The humor is also sharp throughout, even when the film’s satire is very on the nose, like when Linda questions “who would have thought a tech company wouldn’t have our best interest at heart?” The action-comedy hybrid also allows for some brilliant extended bits, including one involving Furbies that is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in any comedy, animated or live action, kid-friendly or R-rated. The action is also fantastic in its own right, as the sleek robot designs look like something out of a far more serious sci-fi film and the fact that these are robots allows the film to play with real violence without being scary. For example, in another hilarious and genuinely thrilling sequence that makes use of what I can only call robot gore, Linda becomes a ruthless robot destroyer when her children are threatened.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines is truly the best that any family film can be and then some. It’s emotionally potent, hilariously funny, and to top it all off, it pushes animation into new territory that I can’t wait to see further explored.