The Mitchells vs The Machines finds the right balance of humor and heart amid family and tech.
Published on May 7, 2021
Rating 4 /5
This film was originally titled Connected, a title that may have given off the wrong vibe if stuck with. Such a title more reinforces the premise of the picture which isn’t remarkably original on its face. A tech company develops robots to help humanity and ultimately dooms mankind when the robots go rouge, leading to one family being responsible for saving day. Thankfully, there’s more to the film than just this manic sci-fi adventure, placing family bonding more at the forefront rather than as a tacked-on emotional theme.
It helps that such a film doesn’t jump straight into the old technology-is-bad route by actually getting to know the Mitchells. We get to meet the most eccentric family member of Katie, a budding filmmaker who has just been accepted into film school. She gets along with her loving mom Linda and dinosaur-obsessed little brother Aaron. Her relationship with her father Rick, however, has been waning over the years. While Katie sought comfort in filmmaking, Rick struggled to get his family more into hunting and woodland life. The father-daughter dynamic has eroded to such a degree that Katie can’t wait to ditch him for college.
Rick soon realizes that his pushing away of his daughter and fearing she’ll face disappointment could sever their relationship forever. To repair this bond, he figures driving the whole family to drop Katie off at college will be a great way to get one last chance for family togetherness. Both of them try to make the best of it in their clashing of ages while never outright becoming the tired battle of tech-illiterate boomers versus tech-savvy generation Z.
So much time is spent on this hilarious dynamic between the survivalist and filmmaker that the film could’ve been just a road trip story. Of course, the robot rebellion arrives as promised through a series of ominous and comical warnings. The plan of the jealous machines is nothing all that spectacular, considering their goal is to gather up the humans and launch them into deep space, turning Earth into a machine-based utopia.
Where the film stands out is in its mesmerizing execution. The whole film proceeds in a manner as though Katie were directing one of her homemade movies, bursting with illustrative motion graphics, silly filters, eccentric cutting, YouTube referencing, and puppetry. Though such a manic presentation almost feels par for the course when it comes to family-oriented animated comedies, the amount of detail in every shot is so vibrant that I often found myself rewinding a handful of times just to catch everything.
The humor is perfectly in tune with the fast-paced eccentricities that Lord and Miller have brought to such productions as The LEGO Movie. There’s a wealth of wit in the dialogue as well as the visual gags in the background. I particularly dug Katie’s towering titles of homemade movies that range from Dog Cop to Dial B for Burger. Even the design of the robotic doomsday factory is so vibrantly retro and colorful that Rick makes the easy association of the place looking like a Journey album cover.
A story such as this could’ve easily gone wrong. The generational divide alone could’ve made this same tired tale of technological dependence, where some tacked-on Ready Player One-style mission statement of getting off our phones more is stressed. This is thankfully not the case. Not only does the film try to bridge that gap but also state a more compelling argument for how technology can benefit individuals but that on a corporate level it can give to much control to an elite who do not have our best interests at heart. Color me surprised that the film would even tackle this topic in such a head-on manner.
The Mitchells vs The Machines finds the right balance of humor and heart amid family and tech. There are plenty of gut-busting moments of technology gone awry, including a giant Furby who can shoot lasers. Yet there’s also a strong emotional core that doesn’t wait until the third act to make itself known. Pile all of this on top of an already stunningly unique animation style and you’ve got one robust animated adventure.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.