At this stage in my adult life, I must admit that I am way behind the pace when it comes to keeping up with all of the latest animated features. I’m not particularly proud of it, but I tend to make the effort for each new Disney and Pixar release, and then leave everything else unwatched. In an attempt to shake off the sombreness of this year’s Oscars ceremony, however, I decided to turn to Netflix for an animated adventure that had the hype train fully loaded and out of the station.
Produced by The Lego Movie creators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, The Mitchells vs. The Machines tells the story of teen girl Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) and her family as they find themselves the only humans left to save the world after an army of robots descends to cause technological chaos. Queer, quirky and an aspiring film maker with eccentric creative juices, Katie constantly finds herself at odds with her parents, particularly dad Rick (Danny McBride), but the family are forced to put all differences aside as they battle to save humanity, learning, as you would expect, lots of lessons along the way.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, let me say that on the whole The Mitchells vs. The Machines is great, it’s full of laughs, fulls of life and full of action, with some all important heart to bridge the gap between all out robot adventure and poignant family drama. The one thing I would say isn’t in the film’s favour, however, is simply the fact that is tries to do so, so much. Something that I have gotten used to in Pixar movies in particular, is an elegance in the way that stories are told, something like Soul, for example, being about so much but feeling so minimalist on the screen. Minimalism certainly isn’t something that The Mitchells vs. The Machines is going for here, but once you adjust to the hectic rhythm of the narrative, it’s definitely a ride that is worth taking. There are parts of the film that feel so packed with plot that the emotions get a little bit lost, as well as more than a few hand wavy moments for the sake of plot progression, so whilst the movie may not be a complete masterpiece, there is no doubting that it is one hell of a fun ride.
The filmmakers have definitely taken a scatter gun approach to audience enjoyment here, throwing a LOT at the screen to see what sticks, and what might stick for one viewer may not stick for another. The humour is a mile a minute, and on the whole the majority if jokes worked for me. The thing is, though, it didn’t really matter when something fell flat because four more jokes were always lined up to go straight after.
The wider narrative concept of smart tech ‘coming to life’ to wreak havoc on society isn’t a fresh one at this point, but there’s real need for nitpicking here. The robot revolution is simply a fun, shiny device in which to tell the smaller scale story of a family reconnecting with one another, and those moments are the most emotionally satisfying in the film. It also goes without saying that the style of animation is really, really fun!
Abbi Jacobson is the perfect voice casting choice for Katie, effortlessly showcasing a relatable, endearing, youthfulness that is quirky but at the same same incredibly universal. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that Katie being a queer protagonist isn’t a big deal, because it truly is. What is so great about the film in this aspect is that The Mitchells vs. The Machines isn’t a story about Katie’s sexuality, it’s not a coming of age in that sense, it’s simply a part of her character that has already been formed, and exists in harmony alongside all of the other caper chaos taking place in the film. The Mitchells vs. The Machines has elegantly managed to do something that most adult and young adult films can’t seem to, and that is have a movie with a queer central character that doesn’t revolve entirely around said queerness. It was so refreshing and felt so natural. Bravo!
The rest of the family cast are equally great, with Maya Rudolph as mom Linda and Danny McBride as dad Rick capturing everything you would want in a parenting duo. Mike Rianda as dinosaur loving brother Aaron rounds out the group, and dynamic between the voice actors, helped by some really fun dialogue, is wonderful to experience.
Olivia Colman’s distinctive Oscar winning voice plays a prominent part as PAL, the sentient smart phone who kicks off the whole robot revolution, and though Colman’s character doesn’t add any real heart to the movie, PAL’s cartoon villainy and general message about the way human’s often mistreat their devices is fun enough, if not a tiny bit trite at this stage in the technology game!
Overall, The Mitchells vs. The Machines was a really pleasant surprise for me. The concept of a young, queer, film loving female protagonist is always going to be right up my street, and the rest of the film is certainly zany and certainly very busy, but I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t find things to like over the course of the move. It’s a very enjoyable and hectic two hours of animation, but I do think it’s one that I will go back to over time!