Animated films with the message of “the importance of family” have been done to death. So much so that I can hardly ever feel sincerity within the screenplay or the direction. However, anytime Phil Lord and Chris Miller attach their names to an animated project, I begin to pay attention. To my absolute delight, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a worthy addition to their impressive catalog of sincere and genuinely hilarious animated films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie.
The film follows teenager Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) as she’s preparing to head off to film school. She has a genuine love for her family, but she feels disconnected from them like most teens. Her disconnect with her father, Rick (Danny McBride), is especially what fuels her creativity in the art she creates within the medium of film. Right on the cusp of her going to college, tech giant Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) holds an event showcasing a lineup of AI named PAL, designed to help you around the house. After his original PAL (voiced wonderfully by Olivia Colman) decides to start an uprising of Robo-AI’s, the Mitchell’s quickly become stuck in the center of a tech-uprising during their family road trip.
On top of an impressive voice cast and a fun premise, I think the screenplay is the real star of the show here. The film is filled to the brim with so many jokes-per-minute that some will completely fly over your head without you even realizing it. However, the most impressive aspect at play is how that not only never feels grating or overbearing – but most of all doesn’t compromise the emotional stakes and character journeys in the film. In fact, humor often goes hand in hand with emotion in showcasing the evolving family dynamic and responding in certain situations. It all flows pleasingly, and it’s nice to see an animated film of this caliber be both incredibly wacky in terms of story but also wear its heart very visibly on its sleeve.
If there are any complaints to be made against the film, it does run a bit too long at 110 minutes. On the one hand, it is nice to see an animated feature that is willing to have an extensive length as there seems to be a 90-minute cap nowadays. However, towards the end, I did feel it weighing a bit on the pace and flow of the film, so perhaps a bit of a tighter edit would’ve benefited. It almost feels like a pointless complaint, though, because immediately after I took that note, the film was able to make me fully tear up – which is something I wasn’t expecting in the slightest. It very subtly builds up emotional investment within this family and then absolutely knocks it out of the park with an emotional payoff at the end. The Mitchells vs. The Machines is overall an absolute blast and surprisingly more emotionally compelling than I ever anticipated. I hope it’s an absolute hit for Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix – because it’s absolutely one of their best outings by far.