Reel Reviews | The Mitchells vs. The Machines

by Tim Gordon

A dysfunctional family winds up saving the Earth from a robot uprising while on a road trip in the amusing and tender animated sci-fi comedy, The Mitchells vs. The Machines.

It stars the voices of Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric Andre, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Conan O’Brien, Charlyne Yi, Sasheer Zamata, Mike Rianda, and Olivia Colman. The film is directed by Rianda (in his feature directorial debut) and written by Rianda and Jeff Rowe (who also serves as co-director), with Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Kurt Albrecht serving as producers.

We have experienced many different perspectives on the apocalypse on the big screen. Who would imagine that a typical family could overlook their issues, unite, and save the world?

Young Katie Mitchell (Jacobson) is a high-school senior that has dreams of being a filmmaker. Her videos on social media are windows into her development. Along with her dinosaur-loving younger socially awkward brother, Aaron (Rianda) she documents her life and world through her videos on her smartphone. Simply biding her time until she goes away to college, she tries to share her love with her unimpressed father, Rick (McBride), to the chagrin of her supportive mother, Linda (Rudolph). To make it up to her, they cancel her airline ticket and plan a family road trip to take her to college.

During a routine tech presentation, a young creative, Mark Bowman (Andre) prepares to introduce his latest project but unfortunately, his first-generation AI, PAL (Colman) rebels after he announces it obsolete.  PAL orders all the robots to round up the humans, but the crafty Mitchell family eludes capture and with the help of two malfunctioning robots, Eric (Bennett) and Deborahbot (Armisen), who possesses the kill code to shut down PAL and all the robots.

Produced by the team of Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Kurt Albrecht, responsible for animated films such as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and The Proud Family. Many of the elements that made those earlier films and shows successful are apparent here in this story.

This comedy cautionary tale of robots rebelling against humans is not the first film to broach this subject. This film obviously pays homage to the exploits of the trailblazing rouge computer, HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. As the family and their two computer companions attempt to shut down PAL’s threat by initiating the kill code, they must come together as a unit to beat back this alien threat.

Leave it to producers Lord and Miller, along with the voice work of several current and past Saturday Night Live alums, including Rudolph, Armisen, Bennett, O’Brien, and Zamata to produce this tender coming-of-age, father/daughter story while also exploiting our reliance on technology while giving it an entertaining comedic spin.  While no family is perfect, the Mitchell’s resilience and love help them celebrate their beautiful imperfections. The result is the year’s first feel-good animated hit which plays off our overreliance on technology.

Grade: B