One of the biggest success stories to come out of the film animation business in the past decade has been Phil Lord and Chris Miller. The pair have been behind some of the most extraordinarily successful animated movies, including directing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 2014’s brilliant The Lego Movie, and producing the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the latter of which ranks up there as one of the best films of the 21st century.
Their latest producing effort is The Mitchells vs. The Machines, which sees the film-making duo in again top form, crafting another absolutely brilliant animation masterpiece. The plot centres on the Mitchell family – a slightly splintered but still loving family, consisting of “macho”, technophobe father, Rick (voiced by Danny McBride), extremely loving and perky mother, Linda (Maya Rudolph), their dinosaur-obsessed young son, Aaron (Mike Rianda), and their quirky and strange teenage daughter, Katie (Abbi Jacobson), our lead protagonist and conduit through the film.
Katie, an outcast auteur film-maker who makes hilarious short films, pulls all her effort into applying and getting into film school. She often clashes with her more practical father, and in an effort to rekindle their relationship, Rick cancels Katie’s flight to college and takes the family on a cross-country road trip to try and sort out their differences. However, the trips doesn’t go well when a small thing called the robot apocalypse comes – the AI assistant, PAL (Olivia Colman) has turned evil and plans to imprison every human on the planet. Now, the Mitchell family must work together to save the world.
Alongside Lord and Miller’s producing duties, the film is directed by Mike Rianda (who also voices Aaron and many other characters in the film), who co-writes the film with Jeff Rowe. Rianda and Rowe were one of the many people involved in Gravity Falls, a brilliant animated comedy-drama that definitely feels like an influence on The Mitchells vs. The Machines – both projects combine family-orientated humour and an apocalyptic-like threat.
One of the many strengths of the film is the gorgeous animation style, which feels part Into the Spider-Verse and part Gravity Falls. Like Gravity Falls, the film takes pleasure in the outdoors and nature, and like Into the Spider-Verse, the film is filled with bright colours and an vibrant colour palette that feels like it has come straight out of a comic book.
The animation also has an extra finesse to it, and there are many moments were the film will pause for several moments and give us a brief funny moment to break the serious tone (see: the Rick Mitchell Special). This is what the Sony Pictures Animation studio are really good at – they have a really unique animation style that separates them from their rival animation companies, like Pixar. Also, much like Into the Spider-Verse, the film is pumped with a strange and unique musical score. The score is a combination between bass-y, brass-y tunes mixed with operatic, emotional songs, and this type of score attributes to making the film a special and unique experience.
Other than the animation, the humour is a real strength of the film. The film passes the “5-laugh” test in about the first five minutes, and you will literally be in stitches every few minutes. There is some really intelligent, insightful satire about the techno-obsessed society that we live in now, but does it in a really innovative and refreshing way. It manages to craft a really wonderful mix between a funny, almost immature sense of humour (which has obviously been influenced by Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie) and some really insightful, social commentary.
Rianda and Rowe have also infused the film with stories about their own lives, as the family relationships at the film’s core feel really real and relatable. The central father-and-daughter relationship between the technophobe Rick and the quirky Katie gives the film it’s depth and emotional core. All of the characters are really brilliant and wonderfully written. Although this remains a very stereotypical and identifiable set of characters (they’re essentially The Simpsons), they are all given fully fleshed-out personalities. A special shout-out goes to the Mitchells’ dog, Mochi.
The voice performances are all absolutely superb. McBride gives a performance with much more depth that he normally does; Rudolph is absolutely hilarious; Jacobson is as quirky and strange as her character is; Rianda gives his character plenty of strange inflections, while Colman creates a very funny and menacing villain. There should also be a special mention that go should go to Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett as two defective AI robots, “Eric” and “DeborahBot5000”.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines (bit of a clunky title, maybe) is an expertly crafted, pretty much perfect animation feature through and through that every-one (whether you’re young, old or middle-aged) can enjoy. It’s almost 2 hour long run-time completely zips by, and like all the best modern film comedies, you will instantly want to re-watch it to catch all of the quick gags and high volume of jokes. I’ve already watched the film 3 times in the space of 3 days. I know for a fact that if I was 10, this would be my favourite film of all time. It will definitely rank up there as one of the best animated features of all time, and will definitely be in the discussion as one of the best films of 2021.