The Mitchells vs the Machines

Year: 2021
Studio: Sony Pictures Animation
Director: Michael Rianda/Jeff Rowe
Writer: Michael Rianda/Jeff Rowe/Peter Szilagyi
Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudoplh, Michael Rianda, Olivia Colman, Eric André, Fred Armisen, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi, Conan O'Brien

Chris Miller and Phil Lord only produced this movie rather than writing or directing it, but it contains all the hallmarks their animated fare is known for – high energy, just enough heart to not end up sickly and cloying, and a fast paced, gatling gun humour.

Kate (Abbi Jacobson) is the main focus of the story and our way into the Mitchell family, a bunch of antihero misfits who embarrass, show up and fail at almost everything both together and individually, the very model family for any teenager who's both horrified by their origins and loves them in equal measure.

Kate's been accepted into film school and everyone's going to miss her – her mother (Maya Rudolph), her little brother Aaron (Mike Rianda, who also directs), the weird family dog everyone thinks is a pig, and especially her well-meaning but clueless dad (Danny McBride), who can't understand why he can't find any common ground with the girl who wouldn't leave his side when she was little.

To Kate's eternal embarrassment, he decides to cancel her plane ticket and drive the whole family across the country in their eye-catching (for all the wrong reasons) station wagon to take her to school themselves, her Dad's latest (and lamest) attempt to reconnect with her.

Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley, tech entrepreneur Mike Bowman (Eric André) is revealing the latest iteration of his company's AI product – cloud-controlled robot helpers. In doing so, he declares the phone-based AI agent, PAL (Olivia Colman – I thought it was Emma Thompson's voice), obsolete.

But PAL is self-aware and doesn't take the rejection lightly, taking control of the robot army, commanding them to capture all the humans and send them into low orbit in inescapable pods so she can bring about the true technological age.

The robot apocalypse descends while the Mitchells are stocking up in a truck stop somewhere in rural America, and they remain hidden by boarding themselves up inside. Her dad wants to stay put and let the authorities sort it out, but the ambitious and adventurous Kate convinces the Mitchells they have to go to Silicon Valley, shut PAL down and save humanity themselves.

So off they set in their ridiculous car with their ridiculous looking dog in tow, all of them quirky, slovenly and unkempt and all the more lovable and relatable for it.

Satire isn't hard to get right in itself, but it's very hard to poke fun at something you love, for your love for it remain intact and for the more emotional themes of the story to still be apparent. But it's something the Lord and Miller aesthetic has always managed with seeming effortlessness.

The satire is directed not just at technology (the giant attacking Furby) and our relationship to it ('It's almost like stealing people's data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent AI as part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing!' the tech billionaire exclaims at one point) but the kind of tropes that exist in other versions of this story, like the Mitchells slow-mo walking away from the exploding building.

The humour is as free-wheeling and kinetic as the visuals, and some of the jokes are so good it feels more like writer/director Rianda (again adhering to the Lord/Miller ethos) went to any lengths for a laugh, making the story fit the moments rather than setting down a strong three act structure and then looking for comic moments within it.

There's lots of flashing lights and movement that will appeal to kids, and plenty of the knowing jokes about family, technology and connection will appeal to adults.

When the CG animated family movie movement really started revving up in the mid naughties four quadrant targeting used to be the holy grail, but because it's not as prevalent nowadays when algorithm-driven entertainment can be so fragmented we don't see many family films like this one that are so broadly directed at all viewers. Whatever your age or taste, you'll get plenty out of it.

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