A quirky, dysfunctional family's road trip is upended when they find themselves in the middle of the robot apocalypse and suddenly become humanity's unlikeliest last hope. (from IMDb)
Sony Pictures Animation's latest venture, The Mitchells vs. the Machines (originally titled Connected), hits Netflix this month, skirting the theatrical release schedule entirely to make its exclusive release streaming on the small screen. The fun and chaotic feature follows a dysfunctional family of four as they find themselves suddenly thrown into the middle of the robot apocalypse. The team behind TV's Gravity Falls tackles this project, with the brains behind The LEGO Movie - Phil Lord and Christopher Miller - among the producer credits. The end result feels very much like an amalgamation of films like The LEGO Movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Croods, and the end result is pretty upbeat and enjoyable.
For starters, the quirky and often random humor is familiar and works really well for the absurdity of this story. Even in The LEGO Movie, the main characters found themselves being oppressed by an evil villain with robots to do their bidding, and here the Mitchells find that they have to band together and use their strengths to help save humanity in a similar situation. The story is told from the perspective of teenager Katie Mitchell who can't wait to head off to college to get away from her family who doesn't seem to get her weird and artsy personality. She thrives on making home movies and looks forward to jetting off to film school. When her father, Rick, decides to cancel her flight to school so they can have one last hoorah in the form of a family road trip, the Mitchells find themselves halfway across the country when the world as they know it starts to come to an end.
The relentless humor and silliness throughout the movie helps to diffuse the tensions that befall the Mitchells throughout their journey. Just like in 2013's The Croods, the woodsy, tough (and mildly inept) father figure is at odds with his increasingly independent daughter. And just like in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the father doesn't understand their child's artsy and nerdy interests, and it's their very personality and interests that help save the day in the end. But even though so many elements of The Mitchells vs. the Machines feels borrowed from other movies and stories (I could probably bore you with a list of little details and jokes, but I'll spare you), its heart and humor is infectious and enjoyable.
My biggest gripe with the film is indeed a controversial one. With Hollywood relentlessly pushing same-sex relationships in all forms of media and entertainment, in an attempt to normalize it, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is sadly the latest film to fall prey to this movement. Katie's character is constantly referred to as weird and eccentric because of her love for making movies and artistic things, and throughout the entire film, she wears a prominently displayed rainbow flag button on her sweatshirt. Her sexual preferences are never mentioned throughout the entirety of the film, but one of the very last scenes tacked on to the end of the movie answers any questions viewers might be having by this point. Over a video call with Katie while in her college dorm, her mom asks, "Are you and Jade official and are you bringing her home for Thanksgiving?" Maya Rudolph (as the mom) delivers the line so fast it's easy to miss, but Katie quickly bashfully follows up her mother's question by saying she wasn't sure and it's only been a couple months. I feel like it's bad enough that we can't watch a TV show without these relationships being brought to the forefront, but it's especially alarming to find it in entertainment aimed at children and families. The message of family and the importance of family is the main point of The Mitchells vs. the Machines, and it's delivered in a beautiful way, so it's especially disappointing to find the film reveal its side agenda at the very end. The presence of the rainbow flag button raised an eyebrow, but it could be explained away as being more ambiguous (maybe she just supports it) or that it's "just a rainbow pin"; instead, the filmmakers made a point to reveal their intentions behind it after we've spent the film getting our hearts softened about family and warming up to our heroes, the Mitchells.
Aside from that point, the film is otherwise pretty great. The animation is really unique, too, as it has a sort of hand-drawn, painterly look to it while still very much appearing detailed and computer-generated. Also, there are emojis and animations sprinkled throughout the entire movie as if we're watching one long Instagram Story or Katie had gotten her hands on the movie after it was filmed and added her own little personal touches to it. It's clever and creative in ways that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was praised for its comic-book-style presentation. The story revolves around the idea of - what if a rejected smartphone operating system revolted and enslaved humanity as payback? The movie is filled with gags about humanity's dependence on cellphones, internet and social media, and it's sadly not wrong. The movie definitely goes to the extremes, especially in expecting us to believe that really these four humans (and their dog) are the only people not enslaved in the entire world, but The Mitchells vs. the Machines gets by on its self-awareness to its own ridiculousness. Some memorable gags involve a game of "Apocalyptic 'I Spy'," the return of a famed (and long forgotten) 90's toy, and what it might look like for a smartphone to get its revenge and do to a human what humans do to it all day. It's some delightfully ingenious stuff.
The content may be a little rough at times for a PG movie. There's a great deal of violence and devastation, even if it's played off for laughs at times. We see robots attacking cities around the world and taking people hostage with the intent to rid the world of humans altogether. Robots get smashed and torn up throughout the movie, too, and one scene during the climax shows a human character lose control and rip out the "heart" of a robot while throwing around and cutting up other robots nearby. It's, again, played for laughs, but it's a little shocking, too. There was no language, apart from two incomplete "What the--" and the movie stuck to using "Oh my gosh" as a subsitute for the alternative. The only blood in the movie appears as some scratches on Rick's face in a very quick flashback, and then we see the purple "blood" of the robots splatter onto a person's face and another person's prison window at one point. There's also some family tension, including an emotional scene where a family member overhears harsh words spoken about them. But, in the end, everything works out for the Mitchells and they come out of the experience a stronger family because of it.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines is one of the stronger under-the-radar animated films I've seen in recent years, but again, it takes advantage of pop culture's trends of trying to cater to nearly every possible demographic and subdemographic, catering to the alternative lifestyle crowd this time around. Sadly, we're seeing this creep more and more into our family entertainment, and while its presence in The Mitchells vs. the Machines may go over the little ones' heads, it's still there and still unnecessary. If it weren't for the agenda pushing, I'd give this one pretty higher marks, but unfortunately, I couldn't.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 4/23/21)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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