Review: Hyperactive family comedy 'The Mitchells vs. The Machines' delivers the goods
Courtesy of Netflix/Sony
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are at it again, the creative braintrust who made “The Lego Movie,” “Into the Spider-Verse,” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” have cooked up another inventive, hyper-caffeinated family adventure where a band of dysfunctional characters must thwart an existential threat. The “Terminator” for kids hybrid entitled “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” - originally named “Connected” when Sony was planning a theatrical release - takes a satirical, though not entirely implausible, jab at society’s obsession with technology in which the titular Mitchell family are pitted against an uprising of sentient robots hellbent on world domination.
Directed by Michael Rianda - along with partner Jeff Rowe who both created “Gravity Falls” - “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” has that signature Lord and Miller irreverent sense of humor where there’s enough giggles for the tykes, but a steady diet of pop cultural references for the adults, including the best use of the discontinued Furby doll ever captured on film. The movie is clearly made from a place of love and Rianda and Rowe have modeled the Mitchells after their own family experiences. Those who are tech savvy and addicted to doom scrolling on social media will find themselves engrossed in this sendup of the digital stratosphere.
Stacked with the best animators Sony can afford and an eclectic voice cast, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” looks and sounds like a million bucks. Though his casting feels sour at first, the longer Danny McBride inhabits Rick Mitchell - the pure dad-bod, New Balance wearing patriarch of the Mitchell clan, it grows on you. His narrative alone - sacrificing his prized cabin for a more family-friendly home in the suburbs - could sustain the film, but “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” isn’t his story to tell, it belongs to Katie (Abbi Jacobson - flawless), a film-school bound college student whose robust knowledge and appreciation of modern cinema could make your head spin. She spent a good chunk of her childhood crafting short videos, like the one where her inbred dog named Monchi plays a cop, and studied filmmaking.
Katie’s career aspirations have stifled her relationship with Rick who believes filmmaking is an unjust way of making a living. Adorable flashback sequences tell us the father-daughter duo were inseparable, and so “The Mitchells vs. The Machines'' evolves into a road-trip comedy about reconnecting and then saving the world.
This starts when Rick cancels Katie’s plane ticket and - along with Maya Rudolph’s peacekeeping mother Linda and dinosaur loving, geeky little bro Aaron (director Rianda) - decides to take her to film school via their old ‘93 orange stick-shift station wagon that barely operates.
But those plans hit a snag when an Apple-like conglomerate (the movie stops short of naming the global tech giant by name) named the “Pal” company unleashes a robot apocalypse, headed by a disregarded piece of tech voiced by Oscar winner Olivia Coleman. Originally designed to be your “robotic assistant,” the Pal company’s millennial aged founder (Eric Andre - perfectly cast) watches as his own creations round up humans, throw them into pods, and shoot ‘em into space. It’s like “War of the Worlds” meets “Dawn of the Dead,” but for children!
This leaves The Mitchell’s as the last remaining humans/survivors on earth, though they reprogram a budding robotic duo voiced by SNL staples Beck Bennett and Fred Armisen (one of the funniest commodities this movie offers) to help create a plan to save the world. Armed with an array of movie knowledge and a poppy soundtrack that blasts Rhianna and T.I.’s 2008 anthem “Live Your Life” on repeat, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is an amusing and often subtle reminder of the limitless boundaries animation can have on screen. Like “Spider-Verse,” Rianda and Rowe incorporate an almost comic-book aesthetic with sharp lines and clean definition. It’s a crime most audiences will see this zany and beautiful looking film at home.
After a slew of monstrous hits, the signature Lord and Miller style of barbarian, laugh-a-minute gags that had anyone who saw “21 Jump Street'' in stitches, shows minor signs of wear and tear. The relentless, in-your-face energy that populates “The Mitchell vs. The Machines” first twenty minutes gave this viewer whiplash. But once it settles into the main story and we watch this abnormal and socially awkward family stand together to fight off a horde of demented artifical intelligence, you’ll be laughing and cheering right alongside them.
THE MITCHELLS VS THE MACHINES opens in select theaters Friday, April 23rd and debuts on Netflix Friday, April 30th