“The Mitchells vs. The Machines”
Photo | Sony Pictures Animation
For most people with kids, the arrival of a decent kids’ movie is cause for rejoicing, and the animated romp “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is a welcome addition to my family’s rotation. Smart, savvy and hilarious, it follows the last family standing against a robot takeover brought on by reliance on “smart” technology, while exploring the family’s changing dynamics as their eldest child leaves the nest.
There is something for everyone in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines.” If you don’t tear up watching the father and his college-bound daughter stumbling to understand each other and regain their familial bond, then you can giggle when a robot kicks the Mark Zuckerberg stand-in who brought on the end of human civilization right in his, err, apples.
Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson, “Broad City”) is champing at the bit to start film school in California and kick all her internet-acquired YouTube skills into high gear. Her homemade films are stuffed with satirical film homages and star the family’s misshapen dog, who is based on and voiced by the real internet-famous dog “Doug the Pug.” And while her younger brother and a bunch of like-minded virtual friends appreciate her videos, her dad does not.
Watching her old-fashioned, outdoorsman father (Danny McBride, “Pineapple Express”) repeatedly misfire in his attempts to connect and understand Katie is the emotional center of the film, and it sprinkles the perfect amount of happy tears over the wacky action sequences. Writer-directors Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe worked on the quirky, brilliant, superb cult classic cartoon “Gravity Falls,” while the producers, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, made the sharp and hilarious “The Lego Movie,” its sequel and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” All of these guys really know how to do their jobs.
In a last-ditch effort to bond with Katie, dad Rick decides to drive the family across the country to take her to college, a plan that is not initially well received, but which ends up saving Katie from being in the audience of a big-tech announcement from Pal Labs. There, founder Mark Bowman (Eric Andre, “The Eric Andre Show”) introduces the robot servant replacement of his ubiquitous, Siri-like personal digital assistant, PAL (Olivia Colman, “The Crown”). PAL’s queenly voice directs a robot takeover within five minutes of their introduction to the Wi-Fi-addicted masses.
Through a mix of internet-savvy, old-fashioned survival skills and the screwdrivers Rick insists his entire family carry at all times, the Mitchells evade capture. Assisted by a hapless and hilarious robot duo (Beck Bennett and Fred Armisen, “SNL”), the Mitchells attempt to deliver the kill switch to the malevolent operating system before humanity is completely wiped out. Of course, they learn things along the way, they bond, they discover strengths and similarities they never knew they had, and they battle hundreds of weaponized Furbies. The soundtrack is also delightful.
Rewatching this high-energy misadventure allows you to enjoy the plentiful film homages and call out details appropriate to a story about a budding filmmaker. Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, “The Terminator,” “Night of the Living Dead,” Greta Gerwig, “Mad Max,” “Dr. Strangelove” and Wes Anderson have all come to play. Katie wears a “Lawn Wranglers” pin right next to her rainbow flag for heaven’s sake, and if that “Bottle Rocket” name check doesn’t get you excited, well, there are still plenty of hilarious physical gags to enjoy.
Improving every project she is in, as always, is Maya Rudolph (“Bridesmaids”) as the mom, who is laboring in the background until her savage, third act transformation, giving my kids the instantly classic quote, “Mommy’s scary now” — just in time for Mother’s Day. The mix of humor, emotion and wacky action is perfectly calibrated in this animated flick. You don’t realize how rare those are until a new one comes along and “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” already feels like part of the family.
“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is currently streaming on Netflix.
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