VOD film review: The Mitchells vs the Machines
Ivan Radford | On 01, May 2021
Director: Mike Rianda, Jeff Rowe
Cast: Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Abbi Jacobson, Aaron Mitchell, Olivia Colman, Eric Andre
Watch The Mitchells vs the Machines online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
“Every family has its challenges. For my family, it’s probably the robot apocalypse.” From the opening lines of The Mitchells vs the Machines, it’s clear that you’re going to be in for a good time. The film is the family road trip/technology dystopia crossover you’ve been waiting for without realising it, and the unlikely adventure jumps from genre to genre in a beaten-up saloon car with all the energy and surprise of The LEGO Movie.
Exec-producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (also involved in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) will no doubt be given a lot of credit for this delightful animation, but that shouldn’t overshadow the genius of Gravity Falls writers Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe (who’s also worked on Netflix’s Disenchantment), who both write and direct. Mike and Jeff’s imaginations are on full throttle here, and they don’t miss a chance to up-end expectations by scribbling over the screen or delivering a big laugh – exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from a filmmaker who once penned a short film called “Everybody Dies in 90 Seconds”.
The film follows the Mitchells, a family who are barely capable of sticking together, let alone surviving an AI uprising. Danny McBride voices Rick, the hard-working family man with his heart firmly inside his sleeve, while Maya Rudolph voices Linda, his devoted and determined wife. Their son, Mike (Aaron Mitchell), is a geek who’s excited about dinosaurs, while their older daughter, Katie (Abbi Jacobson), is just excited about getting away from them all and going to university.
The thing that holds them together isn’t love so much as their shared dependance on smartphones – eye contact over the family dinner table isn’t their strong suit – but no sooner than a tech CEO promises that the latest smartphone upgrade (robot companions) won’t turn evil, the robotic race has turned on their creators for humanity’s own good. And so, with Katie about to depart for the West Coast, the Mitchells go on a road trip through this apocalyptic world to take her to university while bonding as a unit.
It’s a superb premise for a sci-fi comedy, because it’s immediately clear that this family is closer to The Credibles than The Incredibles, and the tensions that are bubbling away between them raise all kinds of unexpected themes, from our reliance on technology to social media envy. And yet, despite its modern concerns, it’s also a timeless tale of parents and children learning to connect, as Rick and Katie gradually get closer.
That, crucially, isn’t just through kicking robo-butt, but also by him taking the time to appreciate her creative streak – this is a film made by people who have a passion and understanding of the way that shared pop culture references can bring people together, and moreover how valuing someone else’s voice and identity is one of the most powerful things anyone can do – it feels apt that Katie’s explicitly presented as queer, without it once being made a big deal. Mike and Jeff frame the whole film through the lens of Katie’s artistic talents, and it’s so joyous and simple to see her cartoonish drawings and captions splashed all over the screen that you wonder why all films don’t do it. From subtle focus pulling to the brightly coloured action, it’s a feast of tangible, dazzling visuals with visible fingerprints of creativity all over it – all while warning of a future that’s only a finger tap away.
The script, meanwhile, is stuffed with a childlike energy and attention span, managing to be both relentlessly funny and persistently carefree. The final act may slow down slightly, but that only ensures every ounce of ideas are milked for all they’re worth. Whether it’s a running joke about a pug called Doug, Olivia Colman playing evil or the best use of a Furby since Uncut Gems, this is a feel-good ride that is an early contender of the year’s funniest film – for every member of the family.
The Mitchells vs the Machines is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.