I won’t lie and say I don’t see the irony of people like me using their personal blogs and social media to proclaim how truly great the latest animation from Sony Animations Studios and Lord/Miller Productions, The Mitchells Vs the Machines is. After all it is a film not so subtly chastising our dependence on social media through a whimsical apocalypse of our own making because of just that fact. But it is also a love letter to the benefits of the same services it laments our addiction to. Here I am writing for an audience and my own gratification, getting encouragement from likes and follows just like everyone else is but director Mike Rianda’s film dares to at least say the bad thing is seeking these things in a vacuum, placing these goals on a pedestal only you can stand on. It is the social side of social media we are missing and it would all be a little better if we all didn’t feel so lonely and isolated while we used it.
Rianda’s film opens on the Mitchell clan, made up of strong outdoorsy father Rick (Danny McBride) and slightly overbearing but well intentioned wife Linda (Maya Rudolph), aspiring teenage filmmaker Katie (Abbi Jacobson) and dinosaur obsessive Aaron (Rianda). Each never quite sees eye to eye with each other, never quite getting past the cover of what the other is offering and with Katie off to college, she can’t wait to get away from her father who she just doesn’t understand and constantly rides her for what she thinks he sees as just a ‘hobby’. Its the classic parent, child dynamic that seems like the end of the world to kids just becoming adults, something made more relatable by the actual end of the world as robots begin to round up more functional families by the thousands leaving just the Mitchells in the position to save the world and mend some fences along the way.
While people will point to an animation style similar to Lord/Miller’s other critically acclaimed Marvel movie, Into The Spiderverse, The Mitchells Vs the Machines feels like a return to their Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs days where outlandish jokes and visual buffoonery hid a very real emotional story amid some groundbreaking visual wizardry. Just the way the sky has been realised here is a wonder in and of itself. The Mitchells themselves and other human characters bridge the gap between sleek animation and hand drawn portraits giving each moment a singular visual style while still carrying over from other Sony productions. Katie’s narration allows for some sketch book asides that only furthers this dynamic art style with outlandish dashes of hand drawn doodling and riffs on popular memes. It all speaks to Katie’s personality while constantly staying in tune with Rick’s generation too.
The dual audiences here feel like just one instead of a film brimming with double coding, Rianda only has one audience in mind, playing to any family, especially not the ones that see themselves as normal. Katie et al are just as closed off, spiteful and caring as any family and through all the silly comedy action and the glitz and bright lights of perhaps the dumbest apocalypse put on the screen, the Mitchells always feel something close to real and accepting in a world of screens and digital isolation. Rianda in trying to make a family picture for everyone involved (including the people that worked on it) he has inadvertently made something for everyone.
Not only is The Mitchells Vs The Machines a socially conscientious picture but it is one that links to the common idea of the world today, that some of the practices of companies we use we don’t appreciate but that doesn’t have to interfere with our appreciation of the services they do provide. I might get trapped in the bright lights of Youtube (Yub Tub?) sometimes but that doesn’t mean everything on it is a time trap, destined to grab me and never let go. The same goes for Netflix, who Sony sold the film to during the pandemic. You might spend an age on the home page wasting your time, trying to find something to watch with your family but when you finally get around to choosing this funny, bright and intelligent family animation, you won’t be disappointed in the slightest.