film & game reviews, the retro way.
Vs. THE MACHINES
Directed by Mike Rianda, mostly known for his work on the Gravity Falls TV series, The Mitchells Vs. The Machines is a Sony Pictures Animation feature (once titled Connected) about a normal yet dysfunctional family having to take on a robot uprising during an awkward road trip.
We are introduced to the Mitchells through teenager Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), an aspiring filmmaker from Michigan who is applying for film school. She is accepted but her somewhat icy relationship with her father Rick (Danny McBride), who doesn't seem all that supportive, makes her departure from the household the perfect setting for an outburst. Feeling guilty about accidentally destroying Katie's laptop the night before she was meant to leave, Rick decides to cancel her plane tickets and opt for a family road trip instead, in the hope of turning things around mood-wise. The trip is, of course, a disaster in many ways but things take a turn for the worse when a vengeful, discarded operating system turns against its creator and unleashes a robot apocalypse upon humanity. It becomes up to the Mitchells to not only protect themselves, but try to save the world by finding and hitting the elusive kill switch.
There's definitely a retro, Gravity Falls-esque vibe to this one despite its modern day setting and the technology being lampooned. The animation's stop-motion feel is partly responsible for that as well as the Be Kind Rewind approach to Katie's YouTube videos and the parents' more 80's state of mind expressed through Rick's inability to understand anything to do with computers, his dated car etc. This is clearly a homage to the filmmakers' own childhoods and the personal touch helps ground the film in real emotions. Visually, The Mitchells Vs. The Machines is like a cross between Sony's own Into The Spider-Verse, Gravity Falls and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World as the CG is given a bit more character thanks to some nice hand-drawn touches with goofier-looking animation and text in colorful font popping up all over the screen to evoke Katie's imagination in full force. The look of the film is often impressive, always appealing but also, a little overdone at times and, in fact, this is true about a lot of things about this movie.
There are a lot of good ideas being thrown around in The Mitchells Vs. The Machines and a majority of them stick but it all feels a bit... much. To the point where there's a forced element that distracts from what is otherwise a perfectly good little movie. Katie is an overwhelming presence in the first half hour of the movie. While this makes sense both seeing as she's the main character and as a worthy contrast to Rick's more grounded personality, it's also too much too quickly and the film's off-beat tone, delivered initially through voice-over, gets tiresome fast. We understand what Katie's about instantly so piling on the Katie-ness feels redundant. The film also suffers due to it not feeling all that original, despite how hard it tries to seem unique and random. The character design is straight-up The Incredibles (minus the powers), the writing has those Pixar-style big emotional highs and lows (think Onward or Inside Out), even the robot apocalypse and technology-gone-mad plot is reminiscent of Ralph Breaks The Internet or, dare I say it, The Emoji Movie. It's all done quite well, granted, save for a few corny moments here and there, but it's hard to shake that feeling of déja vu. With all that said, it's hard to deny how good the giant Furby sequence is.
There's a lot to enjoy here from the slick and flashy animation to the likeable cast and characters (the malfunctioning robots and mindless dog Monchi are great fun). The Mitchells Vs. The Machines is funny, clever and entertaining so it's worth a Netflix watch for sure, and younger viewers should have few complaints, but it just needed some fresher ideas to make it an essential detour.