I am the parent of a nearly 17-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. The boy is every bit his age, perfectly attuned to the intellectual and emotional boundaries of his age. It’s a cliché, but the girl is literally 13 going on 30. For real. In fact, on our recent rewatch of Schitt’s Creek, the girl’s uncanny resemblance to Alexis Rose emerged as majorly unsettling. She even has that “Eww… David” thing down perfectly. Without ever having seen a second of the show.
We are in trouble. This much I know is true.
But that does indicate that my wife and I know our kids. We do love each other, and we express it in healthy way. We do things together. We game together. We watch 80s movies together. Yes, I know they’re just humoring us, but they’re enduring our attempts to keep that familial cohesion in tact until the boy goes off to college next year.
In The Mitchells vs. the Machines, the same cannot be said for Rick Mitchell.
As voiced by Danny McBride, Rick struggles to connect with his aspiring filmmaker daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson) just as she’s about to head off to college. His attempts at bonding emerge as stilted attempts to bridge that vast generational gap. Most specifically, Rick decides at the spur of the moment to drive Katie, wife Linda (Maya Rudolph), and son Aaron (Mike Rianda) across country to drop her off at college where her film-savvy friends are already having a total blast.
It’s a sitcom-friendly premise made infinitely worse by the advent of a robot apocalypse.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines doesn’t give us any new insights into the collusion of family dynamics and modern technology. Yes, they eat dinner staring at blue screens. Yes, Katie only expresses herself through short TikTok-type videos. But that’s ok. If you want something new, innovative, and incendiary about technology, then you should check out last year’s Spree, which I consider a brilliant attempt at creating a tech commentary/Twitch film hybrid. It’s a wonderful satire that works on so many levels. Something of a tech-driven Taxi Driver.
Targeted for the family market, The Mitchells vs. the Machines offers an entertaining plot with a few wink-wink knowing jokes. Directed by Rianda and produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), the film soars in its inventive visual palate. Eschewing the photo-realistic approach employed by Disney/Pixar, the film’s visual aesthetic feels like a comic strip come to life. The characters feel 3D without the pesky glasses. The hair first jumped out at me as an artifact so clearly separate from the background behind it that it seemed to come alive. It’s a refreshingly different approach to animation, further underscoring that variety in the animation world is a very good thing.
If I had any quibble with The Mitchells vs. the Machines it’s that it could have trimmed about 15-20 minutes. Clocking in at nearly two hours, it feels not only slightly padded but also a little exhausting frankly. They wisely make room for character development, essential to a family bonding film. But there are also several high concept action sequences and grand set pieces which take time to establish properly. Yes, it’s a fun, funny film. But by the end, you’re a little overwhelmed by the heft of it all.
It made me want to turn off my blue screen and seek out a beautiful spring day to clear the head. With or without the family in tow, honestly.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines drops today on Netflix.