A quirky, dysfunctional family's road trip is upended when they find themselves in the middle of the robot apocalypse and suddenly become humanity's unlikeliest last hope.
When it comes to deciding if a certain film is added to my watchlist or not, I consider various factors. From genre and synopsis to cast, directors, and screenwriters, sometimes just a familiar name can convince me to give that movie a go. Producers and/or executives are far from being remotely influential in this type of decision. However, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have directed/written/produced some of my favorite animated films of the last decade (The LEGO Movies, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), so obviously, I needed to watch The Mitchells vs. The Machines, previously known as Connected. Mike Rianda has his debut as a director, screenwriter, and voice actor (Aaron Mitchell, son), accompanied by Jeff Rowe, the other writer.
2021 is shaping up to be a phenomenal year. It truly is. I absolutely loved Soul and Wolfwalkers, but if this Sony Pictures Animation flick came out last year, I genuinely don't know which one would I put higher on my Top10. Rianda and Rowe deliver a brilliantly original screenplay, packed with incredibly relatable characters and beautifully handled themes. I can't quite remember the last time I laughed out loud when watching an animated feature by myself. Every joke about technology is hilariously clever, making fun of ridiculous yet realistic human behaviors regarding malfunctions, low speed, and even lack of Wi-Fi. I cried of laughter, but I was also close to dropping a couple of tears due to the main narrative.
I'll start with the protagonist, Katie Mitchell. As a young, aspiring filmmaker, Abbi Jacobson's character follows a well-known arc about not having friends, being the so-called weirdo, and having parents - in this case, more her father - who simply don't understand who she is, what she likes, or why she loves something they simply don't understand. While it's true that this storyline isn't exactly new, it doesn't mean it's not captivating and emotionally powerful when written and developed properly. Rianda and Rowe make Katie an extremely relatable character in such a seamless manner that it's harder to not connect with her than the contrary.
Anyone has at least once in their lifetime felt left out or alone. Obviously, since I share the exact same passion as Katie, it's easier for me to feel precisely the same as her once she discovers new friends with whom she can talk about the art she loves the most. I still have no circle of friends who I can meet daily to discuss the latest movie news or newly released films (in-person), so Katie's journey does have a more significant impact on me than it might have on other viewers. However, it doesn't have to be about art or a specific subject. In a general analysis, Katie just feels lonely and wants to follow her dreams, but feels unsupported by her father, Rick Mitchell (Danny McBride).
One of the most compelling aspects of The Mitchells vs. The Machines is the fact that Rick and Katie share the same arc, just going in different directions. While Katie feels like getting out of the house and going away forever is the best solution to all her problems, Rick believes that her staying with the family is the safest route, one that features no failures that could hurt her emotionally - something that Rick learned from his past, hence the necessity of overprotecting her daughter at all costs. Since they're on opposite sides of the spectrum, constant fights, lies, and hurtful comments drive them apart, leading to a wonderfully written story about family, love, friendship, and understanding the other side of the argument.
Katie's mother, Linda Mitchell (Maya Rudolph), and brother, Aaron Mitchell (Rianda), serve more as triggers to heartfelt conversations with the two main characters, but they also have their own personal journey. While Linda feels jealous of her Instagram-perfect neighbors and embarrassed of showing off her own family photos, Aaron deals with his bizarre love for dinosaurs in a lighter, funnier way than Katie's dramatic arc. Both storylines carry their own lovely messages to transmit to the audience, but Katie and Rick's confrontational relationship embodies sensitive issues that tons of families across the globe never find a solution for.
Another remarkable characteristic of this screenplay is how Rianda and Rowe never take a definite stance on any topic. They always try to follow one of the movie's main messages and present good points for both sides of the conflict. For example, The Mitchells vs. The Machines could easily be misinterpreted as an attack on the Internet and technology in general, but every dialogue is exceptionally balanced. While comments are made about using our phone at the dinner table or during family moments, as well as excessive screentime and overreliance on social media, new technology can give birth to the most inspirational, motivational, and influential works of art. Without it, Katie's dreams would be totally different.
Transitioning to the more technical elements of the film, it's impossible not to tackle the new animation style. Into the Spider-Verse was an experimental movie, and its success might have changed the future of animation forever. The mix of a more illustrative, hand-painted approach with another focused on the CGI realism seen in most films today offers - just like the movie itself - a seamless balance between the two supposedly opposing styles. This blend allows keeping the expressiveness and extreme level of detail of the classic method while also maintaining the realistic environment of the 3D/CGI design. The action sequences are extraordinarily energetic, riveting, and quite impressive, to say the least.
The film's soundtrack (score by Mark Mothersbaugh) is on-point, elevating dozens of scenes with excellent music choices that most viewers didn't even remember already. Exquisite editing (Greg Levitan) and outstanding voice work across the board. I genuinely can't find a single issue with this movie, and I'd be extremely surprised - and disappointed - if it doesn't end up being a frontrunner for next year's awards season. Both kids and adults will have tremendous fun with this fast-paced, highly entertaining film while also getting a few valuable life lessons along the way. And who knows? Maybe this movie will inspire families to make that road trip they've been planning for ages…
The Mitchells vs. The Machines might not have the catchiest title, but it's definitely one of the best animated feature films of the last years. With a beautiful blend of two animation styles - that may impact the future of this type of movie - Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe deliver an emotionally resonant story about family, love, and more explicitly, placing ourselves in someone else's shoes. Featuring incredibly relatable characters, the remarkably written screenplay strikes a perfect balance in every topic it approaches by presenting arguments for both sides without ever defining something as right or wrong. The character arcs might be well-known storylines, but the exceptional writing elevates every personal journey, especially Katie and Rick's, daughter and father. Boasting great voice work from everyone involved, the fast-paced narrative still holds impressive, colorful, screen-popping action sequences filled with energy, excitement, and fantastic song choices. It's one of those uncommon films where I can't find a single flaw with it. A must-watch, *hilarious* film for both kids and adults.
Lord Miller Productions, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, One Cool Film Production by Michael Rianda, Jeff Rowe, Alex Hirsch.
Stars: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph.
Genres: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Keywords: man vs machine technology family relationships father daughter conflict evil robot
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