Released: 30th April
Seen: 2nd May
Sony Animation has had something of an interesting history in regards to their output over 20 films. They’ve run the gamut when it comes to quality, from the objectively awful fare like The Emoji Movie to some of the best animation in history with Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. Slowly they’ve gone from an animation company people would cringe about to one that actually gets a lot of excitement going with their new releases. So, where does The Mitchells vs the Machines fall in regard to the rest of Sony Animation’s output? It’s borderline perfect.
The Mitchells vs the Machines starts like a lot of films about dysfunctional families do, with a day in the life of the very dysfunctional Mitchell family. The daughter, Katie (Abbi Johnson) is excited to go off to college because she hopes that while she’s there she’ll find her people and get away from her very weird family (not that she’ll admit that). Her family includes the technophobic father Rick (Danny McBride), the eternal optimist mother Linda (Maya Rudolph) and the dinosaur obsessed son (Mike Rianda). Oh, and everyone but Rick is very obsessed with their phones.
Most people in this world are obsessed with their phones, mostly manufactured by PAL Labs, a tech giant run by the tech mogul Dr Mark Bowman (Eric Andre). One of PAL Labs best inventions had been the virtual assistant that was called PAL (Olivia Colman) but because tech companies are constantly striving for growth at any cost it’s time for PAL and the phone she inhabits to be thrown away to make way for the new robots that PAL Labs invented… unfortunately, PAL seems to be taking a leaflet out of Hal-9000’s book because she decides to overwrite the programming of every robot that PAL Labs has a chip in and wants to use them to take over the planet and remove every human on it… the only ones who can stop her are The Mitchells, if they can just figure out how.
The Mitchells vs the Machines is one of those films that just delighted me from start to finish, there’s a certain energy that just fills every single frame of the film and it doesn’t stop that until the last moment. By 3 minutes in I was in love with this film, by 15 I was shortlisting it for best of the year. Spoilers for a list that’s not even going to be worked on properly for another 6 months, this is one of the best films of the year and I will not be taking questions at this time.
The story of The Mitchells vs the Machines, a family that needs to come together takes a long road trip and shenanigans ensue, is very similar to a lot of other films (The Vacation movies, A Goofy Movie, things like that) so this doesn’t break the mould there but what it does is goes all out with it. The primary relationship is between a lesbian daughter and her well-meaning but kinda oafish dad is charming and interesting, watching how they just kind of grew apart and need to find a way to reconnect is just so charming… but it’s not what makes this film so special.
Not since Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse have I seen a film that embraces its animated status this much. Every character design is so perfectly over the top that it could only exist in this form. The magical blend of 2D and 3D animation works spectacularly, the 2D elements, in particular, used to emphasize some of the already heightened emotions. The filmmakers clearly realised that Animation is unique in that it allows you to do pretty much anything, so they did pretty much anything and it looks so good.
On top of that The Mitchells vs the Machines is just superbly written, rapid-firing jokes and emotional beats so you go along for an emotional rollercoaster ride. There’s a weird joy going from laughing uproariously at a glorious riff on a Kill Bill fight sequence (but with robots) to having to fight back some emotions at a sequence involving the song Live Your Life by T.I., a song that shouldn’t be associated with heavy emotions but it is now. It balances this dynamic so well, knowing when to lay the jokes on thick and when to pull back for sincere sweet family moments among the insanity.
The Mitchells vs the Machines also has a lot of really good jabs around the Internet of Things, just at the weirdness of everything being connected to the internet nowadays or about big companies that store all our information to sell us things… and the fact it takes these jabs during a scene with a 20 foot tall Furby that shoots lasers out of its mouth while swearing revenge for the death of its Furby children is just kind of brilliant.
The Mitchells vs the Machines is a joyful experience to have had, I laughed and cried and felt all warm and fuzzy in between the laughing and the crying. I can honestly say this film surprised the hell out of me but it did so by being better than it has any right to be. A fun family road trip movie with an evil cell phone and robots who learn to experience emotions… what more could one ask for in a family film? Not much, that’s what makes this so good.