‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’: Animated Family Adventure Satirizes Our Tech-Obsessed Society
It’s up to a quirky Michigan family to save the human race from an artificial intelligence takeover in the Netflix animated feature “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” a family comedy from producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller with plenty of jokes sophisticated enough for adults. Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, and Maya Rudolph lend their voices to Katie, Rick and Linda Mitchell, a teen daughter and her parents who, along with Katie’s little brother, Aaron (voiced by director and co-writer Mike Rianda), hit the road for what is meant to be a journey filled with bonding, but turns into an an all-out battle against an army of robots led by a rogue virtual assistant, PAL (a wickedly funny Olivia Colman).
When we first meet Katie, she is, like most teenagers who aren’t super popular in school, focused on college and the future. An outsider since childhood, she has found refuge in watching and making films, so she is thrilled when she is accepted into a prestigious film school in California. While Linda is encouraging, Rick, who is pragmatic or pessimistic, depending on how you look at it, expresses his concern over the possibility that she could fail to make enough to support herself. Understandably, Katie is upset, and Rick, hurt not only by this argument, but also by the fact that the pair have had trouble understanding each other for years, makes the bold move of canceling Katie’s flight to California and planning a road trip to her college. It is his, as well as Linda’s, hope that the family can come together and be close again, but nothing prepares them for their being the only humans left standing after PAL puts everyone else in pods set to go to space. Well, movies have actually prepared Katie for this moment.
Eric Andre is hilarious as the founder of PAL Labs, named Mark in a not-so-subtle wink to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who finds himself to blame for the tech uprising when he upsets PAL by replacing her with a more sophisticated system. Beck Bennett and Fred Armisen also bring plenty of laughter, as well as heart, as a pair of “malfunctioning” robots who become part of the Mitchell family. The other non-human character who makes us melt is Monchi (social media star Doug the Pug), the family pug who throws off the enemy, as they cannot decide if he is a dog, a pig, or a loaf of bread.
Rianda and co-writer Jeff Rowe do an effective job of using humor to make a point about our dependence on technology. Everyone in the Mitchell family, except Rick, is glued to devices, and while they help Katie connect to her “people,” including her future girlfriend, they disconnect her from her family. Even Linda, a woman who exudes positivity, so much so that it is fair that she engages in toxic positivity, isn’t immune to being sucked in, as she is made to feel insecure by the Instagram account of her seemingly perfect neighbors, the Poseys, voiced by none other than Chrissy Teigen and John Legend.
While “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” touches on a timely subject manner (ponders Linda at one point: “Who would have thought a big tech company wouldn’t have our best interests at heart?”), its themes pertaining to teamwork, love, and the importance of family are timeless. Each Mitchell must utilize his or her strengths and overcome certain weaknesses to defeat the robots, and the whole theme of humans banding together to defeat a threat feels especially timely.
“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” begins streaming April 30 on Netflix.