The Mitchells vs the Machines movie review: A genre-bending animation film with unadulterated fun and a throbbing heart

The Mitchells vs the Machines serves the kind of escapist fare that will make you giddily optimistic, even if just for its less-than-two-hour runtime.

Pratishruti Ganguly May 01, 2021 18:12:02 IST

5/5

"Human: Bleep blorp bleep blorp bleep

Robot: Umm, just to educate you, that's a hurtful stereotype"

The makers of Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, return to explore the inextricable and complex relationship between humans and their biggest frememy — Artificial Intelligence. In between are a dysfunctional family, their dog oft-mistaken to be a loaf of bread, and a giant step towards queer representation.

Darting ahead at the breakneck speed from the get go, The Mitchells vs the Machines sets up its conflicts pretty early on— a tech-bro discards his smartphone assistant PAL (much like our friendly neighbourhood Siri or Alexa, except without Olivia Colman’s cheekiness) to demonstrate his newest creation — robots that would assist you to cook, clean, work, breathe, exist. The downer? PAL is not too happy with her obsolescence.

Elsewhere, a budding filmmaker Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is feeling increasingly alienated from her family, and yearns to go to film school and be with ‘her kind of people.’ Her nature-loving, hands-on father Rick (Danny McBride) does not quite understand his teenage daughter’s passion for art or movie-making. Desperate to mend his fraying relationship with his daughter before she leaves her nest, Rick proposes the family — wife Linda (Maya Rudolph), younger son Aaron (Mike Rianda), and their cross-eyed dog Monchi — take a cross-country road trip to her college.

The Mitchells vs the Machines movie review A genrebending animation film with unadulterated fun and a throbbing heart

Still from The Mitchells vs the Machines

The journey soon becomes a wager for survival. PAL sends her robot army to expel all humans to outer space (with free WiFi, obviously) so that earth can be inhabited by flawless machines. With all humans captured into space-shuttle cubes, it is now on the Mitchells to survive the robocalyse and take down the humanoids.

With no expertise at handling crises, the Mitchells escape captivity every time through a sheer force of luck. Their thrilling face-off with demonic appliances at an abandoned mall is snazzy and nimble, but the makers diffuse the tension periodically to sustain its light, frolicky overtone.

Despite what the premise may suggest, The Mitchells vs the Machines is not a takedown of an impending hyper-digital world. It is both a cautionary tale and an ode to the internet generation.

Rick, the flagbearer of analogue society, finally comes around when he sees his daughter’s creativity creating a storm on YouTube. It is still the scary unknown for him, but he has warmed up to the idea of discarding the utterly awkward 10-second family eye contact rule. As for Katie, the internet helps her channel her personality into hilarious, eye-popping videos. It helps her understand herself, and get reciprocated in unexpected ways. The interwebz crash land into the screenplay often, whether it be a Nyan Cat cameo or dance-along to TikTok's ‘Ma Ya Hi.' The makers take inspiration from a generation knee-deep in their dependence on technology to bolster its central man vs machine conundrum.

The Mitchells vs the Machines movie review A genrebending animation film with unadulterated fun and a throbbing heart

The mandatory 10-second family eye-contact time

But The Mitchells vs the Machines is hardly a ‘this or that’ debate special. At its core, it is a heartening story of the fractured relationship between a gay teenager trying to navigate her “different-ness” and her father coming to terms with her identity. In a hard-to-miss moment at the end of the movie, Linda fires rapid questions at Katie during a video call: "Are you eating enough? How's class? Are you and Jade official, and will you be bringing her home with you for Thanksgiving?" A conversation so organic, it shatters years of stigma in a single swoop. It is such irreverence that will go a long way in normalising queer identities.

Every scene is abundantly warm and gooey, and it is the kind you would gleefully want to melt to. Sickly sweet at times, its sentimentality is swiftly undercut by a steady dose of gags and AI sass; like when Katie's heartfelt monologue about the importance of family puts PAL into sleep mode (Ouch, tech burn).

The execution of the plot aside, it is the inventive animation that will likely land The Mitchells vs the Machines into the annals of animation storytelling. Every frame is chock-a-block with bright, neon-laced illustrations, GIFs, Instagram filters, and memes. It is a heady combination of different styles of animation — hand-drawn, 3D, live-action — woven seamlessly into one another. It may need a little more than a casual breeze-through for one to truly appreciate its inventive, zany animation.

The Mitchells vs the Machines movie review A genrebending animation film with unadulterated fun and a throbbing heart

Still from The Mitchells and the Machines

Notwithstanding, the style never takes over substance. If anything, it is the pitch-perfect amalgamation between the distractingly meticulous mix media animation and the goofy and endearing core of the film that reigns in its carefully orchestrated chaos.

A film of an all-encompassing scale and scope, it makes you wonder what it would have been like to watch it inside blinkered theatres. Would the experience have been more immersive? Regardless, I am not complaining. In times as bleak as we are living in, The Mitchells vs the Machines serves the kind of escapist fare that will make you giddily optimistic, even if just for its less-than-two-hour runtime.

Mitchells vs the Machines is pure cinematic brilliance. And it is the tastiest chicken soup for your hardened soul.

The Mitchells vs the Machines is streaming on Netflix

Rating: *****

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