I grew up on a steady diet of Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera shows, and Disney classics, and I’m not ashamed as a grown-ass man to still enjoy my fair share of animated films.
Sure, there’s plenty of family films every year that I have no interest in, but I have a soft spot for the ones that balance humor, heart, and creativity with gags that can delight a younger audience but are still genuinely funny for grown-ups. In recent years that has mostly been the stomping ground of Pixar, but they have plenty of competition now.
The creative team behind “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is worth its weight in gold. You start with Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe (both of whom wrote for Disney’s “Gravity Falls“) for direction and writing duties and then add in Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The Lego Movie“) and the team at Sony Pictures Animation who unleashed the Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” on audiences in 2018.
Sprinkle in the creative talents of Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh for original score, a hysterical voice cast that includes Maya Rudolph, Danny McBride, and Abbi Jacobson, a killer soundtrack that features Le Tigre, Sigur Ros, Los Campesinos!, Grimes, and Talking Heads, and internet sensation Doug The Pug starring as the family dog Monchi, and you have a movie that appeals to a much broader audience than most movies aimed at kids.
Katie (voiced by Jacobson) is excited to escape life in Michigan and head to California to attend film school. She loves her family, but her dad (McBride) doesn’t understand her passion for the arts, her little brother is still at a stage where he’s obsessed with dinosaurs, and her mom (Rudolph) is mostly trying to keep the peace.
The ultimate family road trip to get Katie off to school is quickly thwarted by a robot uprising.
A tech entrepreneur named Dr. Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) has upgraded his renowned mobile personal assistant PAL (think Siri or Alexa) into a consumer-grade robot for mass market use. The only problem is that PAL (Olivia Colman, in a bit of absolutely inspired voice casting) doesn’t care too much for being replaced and she reprograms all of those robots to attack the human race instead of help it to punish Dr. Bowman from making her obsolete.
Soon enough, The Mitchells are the only family left on the planet who can undo PAL’s evil plan and save the world. The nimble screenplay delivers a touching ode to family and a strong reminder that sometimes we need to put our devices down and connect with our loved ones.
It’s no small feat of visibility in a PG-rated film (and something that conservatives on Twitter are likely to throw a fit about this week) that Katie is quietly depicted as a young queer woman. There aren’t any major references through most of the film aside from her always wearing a small rainbow badge, but it is confirmed late in the movie with a line of dialogue to indicate her parents are supportive and it is an incredibly sweet moment in a film already bursting with joy.
With a vivid palette and frenetic pace, Rianda’s directorial debut is a blast from start to finish. Fire this one up on the biggest screen possible and if you have a 4K TV, get ready for a truly gorgeous Dolby Vision transfer!
“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” begins streaming on Netflix on Friday, April 30.