Sony Pictures Animation has been a studio worth following over the past decade. They may have had that awkward misstep with The Emoji Movie, but they’ve also made plenty of stellar animated films. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the Hotel Transylvania series are fun and eccentric, Arthur Christmas is a timeless classic thanks to its great, emotional writing and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is maybe the most stylised Marvel film you’ll ever see. Take those elements together and add in some of the creative heads from Disney’s Gravity Falls directing and you get their latest The Mitchells vs The Machines – an energetic, emotional, stylish and downright fun family film.
Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is off to college. In a last-ditch effort to connect with his daughter before she heads out on her own, her father Rick (Danny McBride) cancels her flight and puts together a family road trip with his wife Linda (Maya Rudolph), son Aaron (Michael Rianda, also the director) and dog Munchie to drop her off at the university. However, the road trip happens to coincide with a robot uprising that brings about an apocalypse and the Mitchell’s are forced to take a detour to save the world.
The standout element of TMVTM is its visuals. It’s a gorgeous-looking film from its framing and shot construction, its vibrant colours and lighting, and the fluidity and rubberiness of the animation. It’s unabashedly expressive and exaggerated in the best possible ways. This heightens the comedy and brings so much life and joy to the film.
That’s not to speak less of the writing, however. TMVTM is charmingly sharp and witty in that department. Each family member gets their time to shine in both comedic and emotional scenes, endearing you to The Mitchells and leaving none of them in the dust. A road trip might seem like a premise you’ve seen a thousand times. Yet, while the odd joke might feel a tad too familiar, there are next to no duds. Plus, the gags come at such a rapid-fire pace that even one brief dud gets lost among the many hits.
Given the movie’s robot uprising plot, as well as aspiring filmmaker Katie’s frequent clashes with her technophobe father, TMVTM explores and pokes fun at humanity’s over-reliance on technology. Thankfully the internet and meme humour isn’t overstated and when it is present, it’s in line with the type of jokes seen throughout the rest of the movie.
To its credit, TMVTM never feels like it was crafted by a group of suits who only know what the internet is from other, worse movies. As such, the moral of the story not simply being “put your phone down” feels refreshing. While the sentiment may be there to some degree, the film’s screenplay is smarter than a typical “phones are bad” story.
That said, a movie should make you want to put your mobile away. By constantly giving viewers something to laugh at, be it the terrific writing or hyperactive animation, The Mitchells vs The Machines will never have audiences turning to their phones. It’s a wonderfully fun film, bursting with life and creativity. Also, at times, it’s as unapologetically weird and lively as its titular family and because of that, it will surely entertain yours.