Movie Review: 'The Mitchell's vs the Machines' is Sony Animated Features at it's Best
A family comedy for all audiences, The Mitchell's vs the Machines debuts on Netflix on April 30th.
The Mitchell’s Vs the Machines is an absolute delight. The latest movie from Sony Pictures Animation, and producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, The Mitchell’s vs the Machines is skipping theatrical release and headed directly to Netflix on April 30th. Directed by Michael Randia, The Mitchell’s Vs the Machines is a sweet, smart and uproarious family comedy that avoids the pitfalls of many animated kids flicks by focusing on creating a group of wonderful central characters, a winning family of underachievers forced to battle robots in order to save the world.
The Mitchell’s Vs the Machines features the voice of Abbi Jacobson from Broad City as Katie Mitchell, a would be filmmaker. Katie has spent much of her life behind the lens of her camera or in front of her smartphone, making movies featuring her strange looking pug dog Monchie and her little brother Aaron, voiced by director Michael Randia. Katie’s love of movie making has left her dad, Rick Mitchell (Danny McBride), puzzled. Katie’s mom, Linda (Maya Rudolph) meanwhile is slightly less clueless about her daughter’s passion and more supportive while managing Dad and Daughter’s growing distance. Dad wants Katie to think more practically about her future.
The divide between father and daughter drives much of the action of the first act as Katie narrates about heading to college and finding her people while exploring her art, Dad Rick worries that she doesn’t have a back up plan and about how a career in art is not stable. Rick hopes to find a way to repair the divide between he and Katie by cancelling her airplane tickets to California and instead having the whole family drive to California. Naturally, Katie is not keen on this idea but rather than portray her as obstinate, director Michael Randia portrays Katie as a plucky optimist who has more of a typical teenager's difference of opinion from her father. She’s not merely petulant for the sake of conflict.
The story of The Mitchell’s vs the Machines really kicks into gear when a tech mogul, Dr Mark Bowman (Eric Andre), announces the launch of his newest product, the PAL Robot. The walking, talking robot, is intended to replace smartphones as the go to communication device. When Mark ditches his smartphone however, the sentient smartphone, voiced by Oscar winner Olivia Colman, seeks revenge. Taking over PAL’s newest robot creation, the PAL Assistant begins a robot Armageddon by reprogramming the robots to capture all humans with plans to shoot them all into space in tiny pods. Thankfully the pods all have Wi-Fi so the humans don’t fight back much.
The last humans to avoid capture are, of course, the Mitchell’s, the family least likely and least prepared to save the Earth. But, save it they must as father and daughter must overcome their differences to apply their unique talents to stop the robots. They will be aided along the way by a pair of damaged PAL Robots voiced by Beck Bennett and Fred Armisen. The stellar voice cast of The Mitchell’s vs the Machines is rounded out by Conan O’Brien as the most loyal of PAL Robots, basketball star Blake Griffin as a more dangerous, next gen version of PAL Robot and Charlene Yi, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend as a family seemingly more equipped to save the world who happen to be the Mitchell’s neighbors.
The tech send up of The Mitchell’s vs the Machines is quite sharper than I expected. Yes, the basic storyline of a tech CEO whose creation goes to far is a familiar trope, as is the rather trite, luddite, complaints about people staring at their phones too much, but the deft script from director Michael Rianda and co-writer Jeff Rowe does a tremendous job of building funny gags around the familiar ideas. Eric Andre is an inspired voice for the tech mogul, Mark Bowman. Andre is effortless in portraying an air of both superiority and cluelessness, greatly helped by the terrific writing of the character. Meanwhile, Olivia Colman is also an inspired choice to voice the villain as she projects an air intelligence, tinged with menace, with a gleeful sense of the absurd nature of her character.
The central family dynamic of The Mitchell’s vs the Machines is wholesome and very funny. This family of oddballs full of quirks and failings is a joy to behold. Though Katie is the main character, everyone in the family has a moment to shine with Danny McBride’s doltish dad coming through in a pinch and Maya Rudolph’s Linda stealing the whole movie in the closing minutes. Even Director Michael Randia’s strange turn as the little brother, Aaron is good for a few running gags that never failed to make me laugh, even as Randia’s voice in a character this seemingly young feels a little off.
The central character, Katie is a terrific lead. Abbi Jacobson captures the plucky sunny side of Katie and the side that is struggling to be grown up and start her life apart from her family. She’s a wonderfully relatable character filled with charm and quirks and a good heart. In a movie centered around a family coming together against all odds you might expect the wholesome message of family togetherness to feel cheap or sentimental, but I didn’t feel that at all about The Mitchell’s vs the Machines. The whole family is so likable and diverse in character traits and family dynamics, that it felt right for the movie to end on a note of family warmth and togetherness.
The Mitchell’s vs the Machines is, in the end, just plain funny. The CG animation is classically aligned with the style of past Sony Animated Features films but the movie succeeds all on its own. The humor is warm, broad and natural. My favorite scene involves the return of a legendary product line from the late 90’s that is introduced as a villain for the midpoint of the movie. It’s an inspired choice that is at once very funny while also capitalizing on how creepy this toy line was even when it was wildly popular. I don’t want to give it away because hopefully you don’t know what it is going in and you can be as delighted as I was by this terrific choice for a comedy villain.
The Mitchell’s vs the Machines debuts on Netflix on April 30th.