The Mitchells vs. the Machines is hilarious, beautiful chaos

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Everything on The Mitchells vs. the MachinesNetflix’s new animated comedy from director Mike Rianda (Gravity Falls) and producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie), is absolute pandemonium – in the best possible way. The vacation-on-the-road story of a highly dysfunctional family and a poorly timed machine heave, beams with bright, electric visuals. But through hand-scribbled flourishes and goofy robot battles, Rianda finds heart, humor, and a family message that isn’t super cheesy. In reality, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is one of the sharpest films about technology and the online generation.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines begins with a deceptively simple setup: Katie (Abbi Jacobson), a young tech-savvy filmmaker, is fed up with her old-fashioned dad, Rick (Danny McBride), who just doesn’t “get” her. A fight on his last night home before college prompts Rick to take the whole family on a cross-country road trip so they can all drop Katie off. Just when things couldn’t get any more tense, an evil AI named PAL (Olivia Colman) unleashes a Skynet-like apocalypse. The robots capture nearly every human on the planet except for the Mitchell family. Katie, her father, mother Linda (Maya Rudolph) and brother Aaron (Rianda himself) struggle to survive the killer machines and themselves.

A little like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Versealso produced by Lord and Miller, The Mitchells vs. the Machines embraces stylization over photorealism, mirroring sketches and scribbles in Katie’s notebook. The character designs and backgrounds are exaggerated in the style of classic cartoons, and the animation team further augments the image with scribbled hearts, bold letters, scribbled swirls, and small effects similar to Snapchat or TikTok filters. In a film dominated by PAL and its legion of robots, Rianda’s visual approach mirrors how technology shapes Katie and Aaron’s experiences. Each frame vibrates with additional elements to convey how someone Katie’s age sees the world. It’s the Internet generation coming to life.

the mitchells screaming in a car, with words scribbled around them

Picture: Netflix

While PAL’s robots are a real threat, herding humans into pods to eventually launch themselves into the vacuum of space, the conflict of The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a fractured relationship between Katie and Rick. There are more nuances here than a totally disconnected father and an unduly rebellious teenage daughter; each of them must work to see the other’s point of view. This journey to get on the same page is seamlessly drawn into the greatest battle to defeat the machines. An impromptu lesson from Rick on shifting gears ultimately comes in handy for Katie, while her daughter’s imaginary, action-movie-inspired plans turn into life-saving ones. Every time Rianda veers too close to sentimental territory, a gag balances everything out. Katie’s big speech towards the end of the film is touching, but it also sends PAL straight into sleep mode.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is really heartwarming because it’s also hilarious. The Mitchells’ banter about dinosaurs and dog-kissing is lively and fun, while examples of their less-than-perfect family outings — like Rick accidentally getting caught in his makeshift backyard trap — give the animators a chance to inject some visual humor. The revolt of the robots offers its own spectacle; at one point, the family is trapped in a mall and a host of smart devices swarm them, ranging from a horde of angry blenders to a giant, bloodthirsty Furby. And while a movie about the online experience is bound to have a few jokes in it (Nyan Cat’s song can be heard as the soundtrack to one of Katie’s videos), Rianda rightly centers the humor away from current features. memes to comment on the ways we use the internet.

katie leading rick down the street

Picture: Netflix

The difficulty with making a movie online is that what’s hot right now won’t be hot in a few weeks (remember… sea shanties?). Without the burden of specificity, The Mitchells vs. the Machines can unload jokes instead of a hot pot of dated references. The specific little things online — like a nod to “Numa Numa” — are rare and more like Easter eggs, allowing Rianda and the creative team to explore the generational divide in tech more than to grind it down for cheap laughs. The way Katie and her brother Aaron use their phones and apps is universal enough not to warrant the eyes of younger audiences, but at the same time, vague enough for older adults who have trouble telling TikTok apart. from Vine from YouTube don’t feel alienated.

From the wacky visuals to the wild plot and its really sweet observations about family, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, originally slated for theatrical release by Sony before settling on Netflix, is a joy by any measure. It’s an attention-grabbing movie, with everything happening on screen and in the script. The action plot increases the family conflict and vice versa, with each moment of the story advancing these plots. It’s an absolute delight from start to finish that brings the best of animation and the internet to life.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines is available to stream on Netflix.

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