The Mitchells vs. The Machines

The Mitchells vs. The Machines ★★★★½

The animation medium lends itself to bringing a wonderful outlandishness to stories, even ones as simple as a family road trip. With The Mitchells vs. The Machines, director Michael Rianda and co-writer Jeff Rowe have fashioned an enormously entertaining and creative melding of family drama, fast-paced comedy and science-fiction action. From the first frame, there is a lot of experimentation going on with the animation style that allows the film to stand out. Most importantly, the characters and their situations are fully realised and there’s an emotional investment in everything they’re dealing with.

The Mitchells are initially presented as your expected nuclear family, with the caring mother, the father uninterested in modern technology and the children with their own unique interests. However, Rianda and Rowe are able to flesh them out and all manage to stand out and become compelling personalities we want to follow. There’s something relatable about aspiring film student Katie Mitchell’s thirst for creativity and the filmmakers celebrate that. When the film tackles the conflict between Kate and her father Rick, it avoids going through too many of the cliched paths. What’s fantastic is that the movie doesn’t necessarily take sides, as both clearly have flaws and the filmmakers manage to explore them. This really helps sell the emotion of later scenes.

The mother Linda and younger brother Aaron don’t get pushed aside, though. They’re also enjoyable personalities and there are plenty of laughs with Aaron’s dinosaur enthusiasm. Of the voice cast, the strongest performance comes from Maya Rudolph as Linda. She’s very funny, while also showing her own attempts to keep her clan together during this wild road trip. When the robot uprising kicks in, it never feels like another movie has invaded the Mitchells’ story. It becomes a necessary part of their development and it’s a clever twist on usual “end of the world” scenarios. The movie does point out our dependence on technology in hilarious ways, while also highlighting the necessity of modern gadgets and how much they can inspire.

Rianda keeps the plot moving with some excellent set-pieces with the robots and the different stops taken by the Mitchells. When The Mitchells vs. The Machines has to slow down for a more serious scene, those moments are effective, too. The most striking thing about the film is the animation. Sony Pictures Animation has been experimenting with the unlimited potential of animation from its inception and that definitely continues here. The character designs are imaginative and the animators have done a splendid job of giving the film an almost comic strip-like appearance. The combining of hand-drawn doodles with computer animation is similarly brilliant and the editing choices add a lot to the humour, too. The Mitchells vs. The Machines is another example of what makes Sony Animation one of the most exciting animation studios today.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines delivers in every department and becomes a clever and funny adventure. Whether it’s an unexpected gag or a character-building moment that delivers, the entire film gives us something to latch onto. Best of all, the family at its centre is a load of fun and it’s a great time hanging out with them. Mixing a National Lampoon’s Vacation-esque journey with a robot apocalypse is a monumentally unique idea and Michael Rianda and his team brilliantly put the pieces together. Rianda previously had a hand in the amazing animated series Gravity Falls and this marks his feature directing debut. Based on those credits alone, he has proven himself a talent whose future projects will definitely be worth looking forward to.

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