This animated flick is a roller-coaster ride, both in its pacing and the large number of ups and downs I had with it.
After getting burned by Netflix’s science fiction flick, Stowaway, I figured a cartoon from the guys who did The Lego Movie and Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse would be a breezy slam dunk. It looks like Netflix got me twice, shame on me.
The Mitchells Vs. the Machines starts out just fine, with the breathless and frenetic energy you’d expect. Then it slows down and gets into some really myopic “both sides-ism” when it comes to our two main protagonists: a free-spirited and quirky daughter and her old-fashioned Luddite dad. The film pulls a bunch of tropey mental gymnastics to make both parties seem equally at fault, but it’s a bad faith argument. Luckily the movie remembers to get back to crazy action and funny memes for the final act, but I still got off the roller-coaster feeling queasy.
The Mitchells Vs. the Machines (2021)
Young Katie Mitchell embarks on a road trip with her proud parents, younger brother and beloved dog to start her first year at film school. But their plans to bond as a family soon get interrupted when the world’s electronic devices come to life to stage an uprising. With help from two friendly robots, the Mitchells must now come together to save one another — and the planet — from the new technological revolution.
Much like The Lego Movie, this film is a fire-hose of jokes and memes. It mostly works here because the maine character is likable and all the pop-culture and niche-culture shout outs feel organic to the story. It’s very situated in YouTube content creation community and indie film subcultures, but it does a good job of letting you into those communities so you can go along for the ride.
I really enjoyed Katie Mitchell as a character and Abbi Jacobson‘s voice work that brought her to life. She’s quirky in an non ostentatious way, which the character needed. Being a YouTuber and aspiring film maker, the character could easily have been thirsty or edgy and unlikable. Instead she’s charming in her acceptance of her own “weirdness” and doesn’t seek attention despite her chosen profession. She’s at home in her own skin and I really enjoyed seeing that on screen.
The visuals pop, as you’d expect, and I grew to really like all the hand-drawn silliness that pops up on screen during many of the jokes. It echoes the feel of a low-budget YouTube video that has to get creative to make its visual effects work. It’s a clever aesthetic that ups the frenetic and thrown-together energy the film is looking to emulate.
My major downside with the film is that the rest of the characters are either thinly developed or actively repellent. The silicon valley tech who inadvertently unleashed the machine apocalypse is such a shallow swipe at the “go fast, break things, be too vapid to realize what you’re breaking” tech industry type that he elicited more eye-rolls than laughs. Katie’s little brother reads like “probably on the spectrum but we’re too chicken shit to actually say it” to me. Her mom (played by a criminally under-written Maya Rudolph) spends the whole film gaslighting Katie to keep the family playing nice instead of addressing the elephant in the room: Katie’s dad.
Katie’s dad is an insufferable, awful character. I don’t fault Danny McBride for his voice work, the character is just terribly written. Much like the older brother in Onward, he’s an obnoxious screw-up who feigns “I know best” energy to cover up his insecurities. Also like Onward, we get an ass-pull, last minute reveal of all the great things he’s done for Katie that is supposed to paper over all of the terrible stuff he does.
Katie’s Dad is everything Katie is not: he turned his back on his dreams where she chases hers; he tries to project a “perfect family” image to keep up with the neighbors where Katie embraces her quirky self; he rejects technology in favor of a macho, work-with-your-hands ethos, in the process devaluing Katie’s art as not “real.” The film does the “both sides are equally at fault” BS, when all film long we see Katie actually produce tangible results and the only thing he accomplishes is having the right screwdriver one time. It’s such a laughably contrived “see, both of their views are valuable!” moment that I did laugh…but the film really, earnestly believes that they’ve proven “both sides should meet in the middle.”
Bullshit. Katie’s doing things right. Her dad is doing things wrong. Even after the lame sympathy reveal, all it changes is that he’s doing things wrong with good intentions. Katie shouldn’t have to kick down her sandcastle so it can be “just as good” as his mud-pies. He’s the one who needs to change. Leave Katie alone.
The Mitchells Vs. the Machines is mostly entertaining in The Lego Movie mold. It blasts you with constant jokes and whipsaws you through the story so fast you don’t usually register missteps. Unfortunately, like The Lego Movie, it has some really bad politics that it’s using jokes and pop-culture memes to normalize. In both cases it kicks sand in the face of a much more deserving female lead in order to prop up a dysfunctional and underwhelming male character. Knock that shit off.