Good characters make for great family viewing, and Sony Pictures Animation’s new film for Netflix, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, delivers.
Produced by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, the same duo who directed 2009’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two family films.
These projects don’t seem too similar at first, aside from the production company, composer (Mark Mothersbaugh) and contributions of Miller and Lord.
However, they are both high-octane comedies featuring passionate young protagonists who have complicated relationships with their fathers.
Similarly, the Mitchells’ technological uprising and Cloudy’s machine that created food out of water, lead to a ton of man vs machine conflict in both films.
This may lead to the assumption that The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a derivative experience that isn’t as good as the previous Sony film produced by the duo, but that’s not the case.
It’s thoroughly enjoyable, mostly for how it handles its characters.
The titular Mitchells are a dysfunctional family but, in a colourful, harmless way.
The son (writer Mike Rianda) is an awkward dinosaur obsessive; the mother (Maya Rudolph) is jealous of their glamorous neighbours; the father (Danny McBride) attempts to relive the past with his family; and the protagonist, daughter Katie (Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson), longs to go to the other side of the country for university.
These character types have been portrayed in countless movies, but they are charming and relatable, especially Katie, the cinema enthusiast.
The Mitchells are in the middle of driving Katie across the country for film school when a being of artificial intelligence calls for every robot on the planet to revolt against humans.
The family must now save the world, all while dealing with issues and turmoil within their relationships. Katie’s father is a technophobe and clashes with his film-loving, phone-using daughter.
It would’ve been easy to paint technology as evil, but the movie finds a good middle-ground where Katie learns to reduce her time spent on her phone, and her father becomes more tech-savvy after needing a computer to save the day.
The characters evolve naturally thanks to their environment and the troubles they face throughout the film.
However, The Mitchells vs. the Machines doesn’t quite measure up to the quality of animation and standards set by Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Although Mitchells has some nice colours, fluid movements and unique add-ins that funnily express Katie’s thoughts, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is more consistently interesting; the setting is an island town brightened by the variety of technicolour foods that come from the protagonist’s machine.
For the most part, the Mitchells are seen in locations you’d find on any cross-country road trip, except they’ve been ruined by robots.
The colour palette is most interesting when the movie focuses on the robots (you can’t go wrong with neon on black), but the rest of the time, the animation and colours are good—just not as good as they could have been.
Overall, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a step in the right direction for mainstream animation.
Most importantly, the characters are likeable and the plot concept is engaging. Give it a watch if you can, and maybe call your parents afterwards.