Review by C.J. Bunce
Surprisingly great, surprisingly real, and surprisingly… current? Sony Pictures Animation, the studio that brought you Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse brings its latest and greatest animated film to Netflix this weekend. It’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines–a sci-fi, apocalypse, coming of age, story about a weird family that ends up being the last family on the planet to be exterminated from the planet by the very technologies humans are so addicted to. Gravity Falls creators Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe wrote and directed this story, a visually stunning spectacle reflecting life as we knew it in 2020… and may know it again, with contributions by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (both known for the LEGO movies and Into the Spider-verse). The themes are influenced by Tron and Tron: Legacy, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and the Terminator movies, leaning hard on the plot of Terminator: Genisys. It’s loud, colorful, crazy, and it gets family relationships just right, at least of the 21st century variety. It’s also the movie I was hoping for with The Incredibles 2.
The film will appeal to those who understand all things modern and those who don’t, embracing (and poking fun at) both groups and everyone in between. Can’t figure out your computer or cell phone or you’re glued to it all day? This movie is about you. The framework is a cautionary sci-fi story about relying too much on technology. Set in Michigan, it centers on a daughter named Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) and her father Rick (voiced by Danny McBride) who aren’t getting along as she readies to catch a flight to California where she will attend film school. The family’s mom Linda (voiced by Emmy Award winner Maya Rudolph) could be your mom, your friend’s mom, or your brother-in-law’s mom–supportive and devoted, and a little worried about lots of things. Katie’s brother Aaron (Michael Rianda taking on yet another production role performing the voice of the boy) is into dinosaurs like all little brothers.
And then there’s the dog. His name is Monchi, and he looks just like Mike Norton’s Battlepug–and his journey is like a new Battlepug adventure (his scenes are the movie’s best and funniest). Dad intervenes too much, resulting in a plane trip turning into a final family trip across country. Along the trip android software pioneer Mark Bowman (voiced by Eric André) is rolling out his new operating system (straight out of Terminator: Genisys) called Pal Max, replacing the last system called Pal, voiced by Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Colman. And that’s when the world starts coming apart.
The machines, Terminator-style, are taking over the planet. Pal, which was a smart phone, is displaced by Pal Max, which is a Philip K. Dick-inspired robot. These robots can do anything the old personal devices could do, plus all your daily tasks. They are backed by an incredible musical score from Mark Mothersbaugh, who has been creating scores for more than 34 years, from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse to Sliders, Dawson’s Creek, Rugrats, Lords of Dogtown, The LEGO movies and Thor: Ragnarok. Highlighting a villain straight out of David Warner’s Master Control Program in the original Tron, Mothersbaugh incorporates the techno-funk of Daft Punk in Tron: Legacy and sound bytes from surprising places (including The Untouchables!).
Cameo voices include Fred Armisen, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Conan O’Brien, and more.
The sci-fi visual effects and the incorporation of Katie’s personal style and real-world YouTube and social media animations all work exceptionally well. Great robots, great futurism. This has the look audiences expect from Sony Pictures Animation, probably the best all around animated movie experience since Farmageddon and Into the Spider-Verse (animation similar to the latter, an improvement on this year’s Oscar winner, Soul, with unusual bits that may make you think of the magic sequences in Over the Moon). The family echoes that of The Incredibles, this time getting the dad more realistic. The whole family gets to showcase their motley strengths. Good humor offsets the “end of the world” theme. And this incredible family may be their own kind of superheroes, too, despite not having lightning speed, or super-elasticity.
Worthy of accolades come awards time next year and fun for all audiences, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, in the running for the year’s best animated movie, is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.