The Mitchells vs. the Machines (Review)

The best animated films take advantage of the medium, speaking in ways live action films cannot. Mitchells vs. the Machines is one of these films, a consistently hilarious feature about a relatably dysfunctional family of four (plus a dog) going on a road trip and… Trying to stop the the robot apocalypse. You know, everyday stuff. The film is also an ode to creativity and possibility, a film that is pro-tech but pro-tech because it supports human ingenuity and relationships – while taking an overt stance on how corporations exploit tech, and how it can be used to isolate rather than connect. This love-letter to creativity is presented with persistent visual splendour; this is the studio beyond Into the Spider-Verse and the Lego Movie after all. The trademark approach of hyper-stylised kinetic visuals, with the meld of visual styles continuing from Spider-Verse.

We primarily follow Katie, an aspiring young filmmaker on her way to film school. Her Gen Z view of the world, saturated with quirky internet humour, memes and emojis, is all over the screen. Sequences burst with effects and flair, dropping in clever touches that allow the film to speak visually to a younger audience while also reflecting that audience to older viewers. This melding of perspectives is core to the film’s philosophy, as it is about representing – but bridging – generational divides. The way the family are presented is perfect, each voice is captured so well – with startling authenticity – providing the closely observed generational storytelling you only usually get in an Ozu movie (but with a very different sensibility).

This does feel purposeful. The film is in conversation with wider culture, and in a way that is additive. Mitchells knows that the new wave of culture and content, from the younger generation, is post-modern, collaborative and full of allusions. The internet has made art into a shared space and the content created by kids, especially on things like Tik-Tok, is this post-modern explosion of melding sensibilities and aesthetics. Brilliantly, this film – in telling a story about this generation – matches that narrative through its form. Where other animated or family films throw in lazy film references to keep the parents awake, this film feels cine-literate. There are visual nods to 2001, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead and, it also definitely feels like the filmmakers watched and were inspired by Chopping Mall (which I support). Really, this is probably a case of people coming together and wanting to share and collaborate, in a way that animated film making really facilitates. That one animator gets their Chopping Mall allusion in, because they want to, reflecting a generation used to giving shout outs.

All of the visual design, and all of the character work, is outstanding. The jokes are brilliant too. It is rapid fire humour but smartly varied with clever running and returning gags. Each frame is stuffed with visual jokes and the balance between genuine pathos and all out hilarity is well established. Alas, the film is a little too long, in a way that detracts from its kinetic energy. Also, though the vs Machines storyline facilitates some nice ideas it does cut against the Mitchells’ family arc. The ridiculous storyline makes for a ridiculously entertaining movie but when the film is a family drama about a well realised family, it is quite perfect. You almost feel that you didn’t need the zaniness, and the extra messaging, that the film about familial rifts that reflect known dynamics was the only film it needed to be.

However, the film we are left with is still excellent. Every inch exudes love and enthusiasm and the post-modern inflections are additive and genuine. As it complicates itself it throws in theme after theme, boiling down to a film that speaks its messages directly – as it accrues a fair few – as opposed to the opening act which gives viewers so much to think about (and does some brilliantly subtle stuff). So, yes, we end with an overt film that gives broad but important messages, and a wide assortment of themes that means the core themes don’t have the space to be fully fleshed out. But, we also end up with something utterly joyous and completely entertaining. It may lose out on being a masterpiece but it is still fabulous.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s