Saturday, April 01, 2023

Huge laughs, heart in Netflix’s ‘Mitchells vs. the Machines’

| May 8, 2021 1:00 AM

A misfit family takes on the robot apocalypse in the hilarious animated film, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” now streaming on Netflix.

The film, directed and co-written by Mike Rianda and produced by the team behind “The Lego Movie” and the Oscar-winning “Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse,” was originally slated for full-on theatrical release last year, and the action-comedy would’ve played incredibly on the big screen. As it stands, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” rises above the typical kid-centric options on Netflix.

The story focuses on a movie-crazy teen artist named Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) on the verge of leaving home to attend film school. Her dad, Rick (Danny McBride), is a self-proclaimed outdoorsman, and he doesn’t understand any aspect of his daughter’s screen-centric life. Katie’s mom (Maya Rudolph) keeps trying to connect the two, and younger brother Aaron (director Rianda) really, really really likes dinosaurs. One more family member: a chubby dog (or is it a pig?) who stars in many of Katie’s homemade movies.

Bigger picture: A tech CEO develops full-size robot assistants, and in the process discards his longtime operating system, named Pal (just think Siri or Alexa), voiced with theatrical gusto by the great Oliva Coleman. Pal overthrows her creator and sends the robot army to capture humanity. Basically by pure luck, The Mitchells become the last free people on Earth, and it’s up to them to save the world… so long as they can decide on a plan that doesn’t involve cowering in the corner.

The natural conflict on the surface here is human connection vs. technology, but the genius of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is how it frequently sidesteps such a binary argument. Katie and Rick need to learn from each other in order to survive, for example a little bit of tech savvy mixed with how to drive a stick shift. The movie finds ways to mine humor and genuine insight from both positions.

Everything clicks here - the 3D animation style frequently injects 2D elements as well as familiar “filter” elements you’d find in many YouTube and TikTok videos, the central characters are dynamic, believably messy people, and the comedian-dominated voice cast adds attitude and depth to the humor. Maya Rudolph especially earns big laughs here, as do a pair of “disgruntled” robots (Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett) who wind up befriending the family.

The Mitchells don’t have superpowers, but they do interact with relatable conflict in the way that worked so well in both “Incredibles” movies. “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” stages some creative action sequences too, including a “Dawn of the Dead”-esque showdown at a mall involving evil appliances and a certain, furry toy phenomenon.

“The Mitchells” continues the streak by Sony Animation that includes multiple, better-than-they-should-be “Lego” movies and the visually groundbreaking “Spiderverse” film. Hopefully, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” finds an audience and makes a strong push for awards trophies later this year. Hey, Pixar… you’ve got some real competition here.

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Tyler Wilson has been writing about movies for Inland Northwest publications since 2000, and for the Press since 2006. He is the co-host of “Old Millennials Remember Movies,” available everywhere you find podcasts. He can be reached at

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