I, for One, Welcome 'The Mitchells vs. the Machines' Directed by Mike Rianda
Starring Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Olivia Colman, Maya Rudolph, Conan O'Brien, Charlyne Yi, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Fred Armisen, Eric Andre
Published May 03, 2021When it comes to crossover animated films that appeal to adults as well as kids, Pixar has dominated the market since the mid-'90s — and while the studio's output has been unimpeachable, it has resulted in the films feeling (and looking) a little homogenous.
That's what makes the Sony-produced The Mitchells vs. the Machines such a welcome breath of fresh air. Its tearjerking family themes are Pixar-esque, but the film also brings a distinct Gen Z perspective — even though director Mike Rianda is actually 36, firmly in the millennial generation — plus an organic animation style that somehow looks like pencil crayon, claymation and 3D CGI all at once.
The film finds the titular Mitchell surviving — and eventually battling against — a robot apocalypse, as an AI named PAL (Olivia Colman) achieves the technological singularity and overthrows the human race. But even before that, the family is undergoing some changes, as teenager Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is leaving for film school and has frequent clashes with dad Rick (Danny McBride). Mom Linda (Maya Rudolph) and dinosaur-obsessed younger brother Aaron (director Rianda) are left trying to keep the peace.
Once the robot fighting begins, The Mitchells vs. the Machines draws on the cheerful post-apocalyptic irony of Zombieland, the maximalist visuals of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and the ominous synthwave score of Stranger Things. With faux-YouTube clips, memes, and even a few photographic images mixed in with the animation, the film has a slightly chaotic visual style that's appropriate for a contemporary internet audience. (A comparison: Pixar films have the beauty of early Instagram, with all of its pastel-coloured walls and artful food porn, whereas this has the anything-goes disorder of current Instagram.) Katie's sexuality is never directly addressed, but she wears a rainbow flag pin; an offhand comment about her dating a non-male character normalizes queer relationships without making them the focus — another element that makes this feel like a contemporary twist on animated family features.
It's fun and unconventional, but The Mitchells vs. the Machines ultimately succeeds with the oldest trick in the book: good storytelling. At its heart, this is a film about a teenager holding onto family bonds even as she enters adulthood and leaves the nest. If this is where Hollywood is headed, I for one welcome our new robot overlords. (Netflix)