The Mitchells vs. The Machines

The Mitchells vs. The Machines ★★★★

So, Sony Pictures Animation is really good now? Cool.

An interesting example of when a studio correctly figures out what worked about a prior success for replication (in this case, realizing the energetic personality and clever writing of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is what made it so beloved instead of immediately greenlighting a bunch of other inter-dimensional spins on well known IPs), The Mitchells vs. the Machines is clearly an attempt to strike gold again yet it is still a totally unique and original work in its own right. 

The film is a chaotic blast from start to finish with an absolutely wild personality. The characters feel like archetypes from another dimension, the animation is a raucous assemblage of brightly-colored, middle school journal scribble drawings injected to energized life and the script’s sense of humor is a near-masterwork of comic absurdity. It is one weird, wild lightening strike of pop art creativity and counter cultural attitudes ascendant by the capabilities of mainstream studio production work to reach its fullest potential. In other words, one can really feel the Phil Lord/Chris Miller influence over the project. But the script for The Mitchells vs. the Machines is equally comparable to Spider-Verse in the sense that it’s surprisingly quite meticulous in its character work and joke writing. It’s always eager to go that extra mile to make an absurdist flourish even more bizarre, a joke ten times funnier, an emotional beat more thoughtful, a character trait more interesting. The entire screenplay is composed with a brilliant and breakneck pace of set ups and pay offs, and they’re all done so well that one often finds themselves writing off set ups as throwaway bits until the surprising pay off occurs. 

But there’s also just a really great story to The Mitchells vs. the Machines that smartly knows how to make itself relatable to every perspective it depicts. The growing frustrations of baby boomer and Gen-X parents feeling like they’re at war for their millennial and Gen-Z kids’ attention with the overwhelming technological innovations at their disposal is perhaps portrayed here far better than any other piece of entertainment of this variety has tried to. A lot of effort is put in to make viewers see how confusing it can be for parents trying to raise their kids in a familiar way to their own upbringings when the world they’ve brought them into is so drastically different from what they can understand as older parents, but also why so many young people lose themselves in technology and internet culture as an escape from stressful family and social dynamics. It’s easier than ever before for kids of all ages to maintain more outwardly contrasting attitudes to their parents because their sphere of influence has become so infinite. If your parents try to raise you in such a way that infuriates you, you can hop online and meet a million other kids who feel the exact same way. The Mitchells vs. the Machines takes a near-flawless approach to it’s portrayal of technology’s effect on American culture, presenting both how it can connect and how it can alienate with equal impact. There’s a lot of interesting portrayals of big tech’s influence in a sort of “baby’s first Black Mirror” way, but it is squarely focused on family dynamics. And as such, it is very well written, well plotted and very emotionally resonant. It is a story advising kids to not depend on the internet and technology so much for their social experiences and emotional needs, and it is also a story advising parents to look within and consider what kind of environment they’ve either created or allowed to lead their kids to become so dependent on it in the first place. 

There’s a few stylistic flourishes that aren’t always consistent and the film is maybe just a bit too long and a tad underdeveloped on the villain side of things. But The Mitchells vs. the Machines is the rare breed of animated family film that is putting its best foot forward both creatively and thematically. And it is easily the most fun I’ve had with a movie so far this year.

Side Note: Hollywood, please write more family movie scripts where the girl wants to be a filmmaker! There’s a ton of creative young women out there interested in making movies that would likely feel so much more emboldened to actually go for it if there were more examples of reference to see themselves in in the entertainment they consume.

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