The Mitchells vs. The Machines

The Mitchells vs. The Machines ★★★★★

Full disclosure, I’ve watched this six or seven times now. I’ve lost count. It’s so wonderful. I’ll probably be referencing Lord & Miller throughout much of this review (which makes sense, given that they’re the through-line for lots of the best animated movies in recent memory) but loads of credit also must be given to Michael Rianda. His Gravity Falls blend of humor and heart shines here. What a directional debut indeed!

Lord and Miller have had a habit of being involved with all my personal favorite movies; Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs is a film I know like the back of my hand, and The LEGO Movie too. There’s something about that Lord/Miller humor that just makes me laugh more than any other attempt at comedy anywhere else. Part of it might be the sheer flippancy (and frequency) of the brilliant gags; rather than stopping the story to let the voice actors do bad improv, Lord & Miller films are loaded to the brim with jokes that just occur organically in the foreground and background and never slow anything down. Because of this, I’ve been rewatching Cloudy, LEGO Movie, Spider-Verse and Mitchells for as long as they’ve been around and I still notice new jokes every time. These movies are also great, though, because they’re able to successfully balance sincerity with satire; Lord & Miller films manage to mock their own cliches at every turn while also embracing them wholesale and never undercutting the emotion. In any other hands, all of these films could have remained farce comedic spectacles, but none of them could have successfully nailed the relational resonance on the journey. Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs is a very, very, very funny movie (“I wanted to run away that day...but you can’t run away from your own feet”) and yet the father/son relationship is one of the most moving ones I’ve seen depicted onscreen. It makes me feel a lot.

Out of all of these brilliant films, though, I think Mitchells vs. Machines might be the one that juggles these tensions in the most extreme way; this is simultaneously Lord & Miller’s most naturalistic and human movie and yet also their most absurd and apocalyptic. The juxtaposition of the two (family road trip during a robot invasion) is what makes it work so well, because this is exactly what my family would be like during the apocalypse. Actually, it’s funny: Lord & Miller’s filmography so clearly shows that they have some major daddy issues, and yet I’ve always had a very good relationship with my dad. I’m not sure what connects with me so much about these films because of that; maybe it’s that I’m so close with my dad that seeing characters who aren’t makes me extra sad. Still, the real element of relatability in Mitchells for me is the pure chaos energy of the family themselves; aside from my dad, everyone in my own family (including myself) has ADHD, and it has led to many vacations and road trips that have felt like the apocalypse. But I love them for it.

Another refreshing thing about Mitchells is that it comes the closest to understanding Gen Z’s relationship with family and technology of any movie I’ve seen in the last decade. Yes, there are some some occasionally cringe “meme moments” but the overall finger-on-the-pulse is very perceptive and integrated, and it puts a lot of trust in young people to realize the nuances of everything; technology is a helpful tool for creativity and relationship when used wisely, but a soulless overlord when left unattended and uncurated. Technology is not the boogieman, but it can be if we allow the algorithms to control us instead of us controlling them. In the same way, family can be a meaningful and important form of lifelong community, even in the endearing messiness and chaos, as long as the individual members are allowed to find “their people” outside the circle, too.

More than anything, I think Lord & Miller’s animated films strike the right nerve with Gen Z (including myself) because they capture that tension between irony and sincerity that we that we so often seek to feel. So many other postmodern films today try to poke fun at the cliches and stereotypes of modern cinema, but in doing so, they often undercut the point of everything we’re watching. Postmodernity deconstructs without reconstructing. But Lord & Miller are different; the finale of Mitchells vs. Machines allows Katie to give the sappy speech about the way she loves her family, then allows the villain to make a joke acknowledging the sappiness of the moment, but ultimately keeps the resonance and sincerity of the character’s speech untouched. That’s post-post-modernism: young people today want to be able to be self-aware of their own cheesiness, maybe even poke fun at themselves for a brief moment, but in the end they still want to be allowed to embrace that earnest emotion wholesale. And Lord & Miller do it right every time.

Anyway, wonderful movie. Every character feels layered and three-dimensional and full of, well, character. The art style is pure eye candy. Mark Mothersbaugh’s score is (as usual) off-the-charts good. The body language of the animated performances is wildly naturalistic. The voice actors are great. The charisma is unparalleled.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“How about spending time with your family? Alone? For hours in a car? YOU AND ME?”

“PRANCER BELONGS TO THE CANYON NOW!”

“Your destination is THE BLACK VOID OF DISTANT SPACE.”

“Welcome to the Rhombus of Infinite Subjugation.”

“We’re humans just like you. My human guy name is Eric.”
“My human guy name is...also Eric. I mean...Deborah. Bot. Five thousand.”

“I mean father, I crave your wisdom. I would love to share this moment with you.”

“I heard you the first time! I was just being a jerk!”

“Okay guys, let’s play apocalyptic I spy.”
“I spy a flaming IHOP. It’s sad but it smells incredible.”

“Ya know, I created you when I was a young man. Three years ago.”

“NO. I HATE DINOSAURS AND I HATE YOU. BYE FOREVER.”

“I dunno, these things are never that exciting.”
“ARE YOU READY FOR THE MOST EXCITING NIGHT OF ALL TIME?”

“Whether it’s in your home, or your car.”
“Hello Mark.”

“HAS THE WORLD GONE MAD?”

That’s all for now. Please complete The LEGO Movie Trilogy.

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