Sony Pictures Animation has been growing further and further in their filmography by experimenting with fresh computer technology and innovative stories, and none could be better proof than their most recent feature, The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Co-written and directed by former Gravity Falls writer Mike Rianda, the film was initially set to come out in September of 2020, but due to COVID restrictions, it was eventually delayed until the end of April and released on Netflix. Now that the world is finally ready to see the Mitchells unleashed, just how much was the wait worth it in the end?
The film follows the Mitchells, a dysfunctional family with an aspiring filmmaker daughter named Katie and a down to earth father named Rick that fail to see eye to eye from when they were younger. While attempting to rekindle their relationship on Katie's trip to college, the whole family winds up having to save Earth from a robot uprising while on a road trip. Now based on that bizarre premise, it would seem like we have a case of two different movies clashing together. However, the otherwise routine storyline of a family overcoming their differences is ultimately saved and even elevated by this other arc, because the movie's biggest theme lies in how overly dependent people have become to technology nowadays. While it is wonderful just how much the world has advanced in adapting to technological innovation, including animated features, one must be careful to not take it for granted. Sometimes, all it takes is just one person to deem an AI obsolete for the whole world to fall under chaos; that is just how much the reliance on technology has grown in humanity, both for better and worse.
As for the Mitchells story arc, like I mentioned before, it is admittedly a fairly standard plot about a parent and offspring needing to overcome their differences to connect again. However, to the film's credit, the characters themselves range from charmingly hysterical to surprisingly relatable. Katie represents the adorkably creative artist in many of today's generation, Rick is a good hearted albeit overly indulgent maniac of a dad trying to figure out today's youth, Linda is an overly perfectionist mother that demands the family be functional even at her most calm, and Katie's little brother Aaron might be the most hilarious dinosaur obsessed squirt since Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes (and their bug eyed potato dog Monchi is the cherry on top). This whole family of eccentric weirdos drive the film forward, especially compared to their allies and enemies, be it evil robots or family rivals. Not to mention, the whole cast clearly had a blast in their roles, especially Abbi Jacobson and Danny McBride being the most authentic as a quirky albeit frustrated teen and an overly impulsive father.
Out of all the animated features to be released this year right now, this film might have the most unique visuals and art direction yet. In addition to Lindsey Olivares' stylized character designs translating seamlessly in the SPA renderfarm, the animators did the most in exercising their acting chops to make the characters move like real people yet still feel appropriately exaggerated. The backgrounds are also a neat reflection of how the United States would look if it went from a neat colorful environment to a post apocalyptic sci-fi nightmare, with the right amount of special effects, color gradients and shadows to go along with the world-building. There are even nice additional 2D animated chunks that are either used in lieu of exposition or cute little add ons to the suspense in a given scene. The only genuine criticism to give the visuals is that sometimes those gimmicky effects and filters can be a little too frequent and even jarring, especially when some of the movie's humor is overly reliant on modern internet culture. Let's just say some of the filters could come off as jump scares.
I can't think of a better energetic romp of a film for the whole family to enjoy as much as this one. Not only is The Mitchells vs. The Machines an eye-catching twist on the family road dramedy genre, but it might be the most fun animated film released in a while. If Netflix and Sony Pictures Animation keep up this track record of enjoyable thrill rides disguised as innovative experiments, then there's no telling what the future holds for moviegoers. If you haven't seen the film yet, go on your Netflix account and give it a go. There's never been a better time to connect with your love of movies than now.
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