Movie Review: ‘The Mitchell’s vs the Machines’

Director: Mike Rianda

Starring: Abbi Johnson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Mike Rianda, Eric Andre, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Blake Griffin, Conan O’Brien

Plot: In an attempt to reconnect with his daughter Katie before she departs for college, Rick Mitchell loads up the family car for a cross-country journey with everyone is tow. Then the robot apocalypse happens.

Review: I don’t think I would have given this a second look. At a glance it looked like a pretty generic made-for-home media children’s animated film. But we happen to be a Mitchell family and we’d been getting some reliable recommendations. When I needed something to cheer up the youngest member of the family, I figured the Mitchell connection might pique her interest. And then we laughed our asses off for two hours straight.

There were clues that we were in a good time. Producer the films are Lord and Miller, who established a high energy and visually busy animation aesthetic in The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and they have a solid track record. In the director chair is Mike Rianda, coming from Gravity Falls, another amazing piece of animated fiction. Along with the brilliant cast, this movie about a family of misanthropes become the human race’s last hope during a robot apocalypse.

Disaster strikes with standard tech CEO type Bowman (Andre) disrespects his AI personal assistant PAL (Colman) and replaces her when robot servants. PAL takes control the high powered automatons and uses them to begin rounding up the human population to blast them into space. The Mitchell family were in the middle of a cross-country trip as part of an attempt by father Rick (McBride) to reconnect with his daughter Katie (Jacobson). Rick is a man of the land and Katie is a progressive thinking film-maker, and the two struggle to see eye-to-eye. It won’t be until the pair can learn to appreciate each others strengths that they can take control of their situation.

This is a high-powered, high-energy movie and it quickly moves from set-piece to set-piece. Even the emotionally driven moments are punctuated by different styles of animation, montages and physical gags. Every sequence is unique, with battles against appliances, Mad Max style road conflicts and infiltration to keep things fresh. At close to two hours this is a lengthy bit of family entertainment, and the extra time given to both action and character development helps give the film a grounding in reality. On repeat viewing the long running time drags a bit, but for the first time run it’s a non-stop ride.

If there’s any one thing that will put people off, it would be the meme- and pop-culture based humour. There’s little doubt who the intended audience is, as much of the humour is very much in vein of internet humour with many gags being directed referential to internet culture. Nyan Cat and Live Your Life are both on the soundtrack, and web popular franchises like The Shining and Nightrider get Easter Eggs. In a positive progressive move, the main character is LGBQTI+ without it being the focus of the story, giving the characteristic a welcome feeling of normalisation.

We can’t recommend this movie enough. Olivia Colman’s rage-out is one of the funniest things I have seen in a children’s movie. Whenever Song let Lord and Miller steer the ship they produce something magical. Keep this going.

Rating: NINE out of TEN