The Mitchells vs the Machines: A properly funny family caper

Animation mixes crazy action with just the right amount of heart

The Mitchells vs the Machines

Film Title: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Director: Mike Rianda

Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric Andre, Fred Armisen, Conan O'Brien, Charlyne Yi, Sasheer Zamata, Olivia Colman

Genre: Animation

Running Time: 113 min

Fri, Apr 30, 2021, 05:00


Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the dynamic duo behind The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, produced this wildly entertaining animated family caper. It’s a good fit. The Mitchells vs the Machines displays many of the lively pop culture riffs and the anarchic humour that powered along Lord and Miller’s greatest hits.

The terrific voice cast helps. Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson voices Katie, an aspiring teen filmmaker who can’t wait to depart for college, and find kindred spirits. Her YouTube videos, often starring the family pug, Monchi, have an audience that doesn’t include her Luddite dad, Rick (Danny McBride, excellent here) and consensus-chasing mother, Linda (Maya Rudolph). She remains a caring big sister to the awkward, dinosaur-obsessed Aaron (co-writer and director Mike Rianda) but, by her own hormonal hyperbole, she’s part of the “worst family in the world”. 

When Rick decides to rip up Katie’s plane ticket so the family can, well, enjoy a cross-country drive to his daughter’s new campus, a nightmarish car ride seems assured. The hell of the backseat is, however, considerably worsened when an obsolete AI phone (Olivia Colman) unleashes a global army of robots in order to get back at her tech bro inventor (Eric Andre).

Rianda and co-writer Jeff Rowe are alumni of Disney’s wonderful Gravity Falls. In keeping with that show, The Mitchells has just the right amount of heart. A crucial detail about Katie is written, without fuss or fanfare, into a closing scene. The film’s depiction of daddy-daughter drama is as moving as it is funny. And this is properly funny. The film’s YouTube nous is carefully counterpointed by a plea to maybe put down your phone once in a while. That moral is sweetened with lots of freeze-frame, wacky narration, silly robots, crazy action sequences and a bug-eyed dog. 

This Sony project was originally intended as a summer tent-pole project but has landed at Netflix. The studio’s loss looks certain to be the streaming giant’s gain. The Mitchells vs the Machines feels, even without the benefits of a theatrical run, just like summer.