Eric André

The Mitchells vs the Machines

06/05/21

Netflix

A sinister organisation enslaves the planet Earth and the only surviving family must fight to free humankind.

It sounds like the plot of a po-faced, dystopian nightmare, doesn’t it? But in the hands of animation veterans, Lord and Miller, what emerges is an irresistibly good-natured romp, replete with funny one-liners and a whole stash of movie references. You’d have to be pretty dour not to enjoy what’s on offer here.

The Mitchells are essentially a family of misfits. Eldest daughter, Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) is a movie-mad teenager (though with that name, you might reasonably have expected her to be more of a theatre fan). She spends every spare minute making films on her phone and is looking forward to going to college in California, where she can study the beloved art full time. Her little brother, Aaron (Michael Rianda), is dinosaur-obsessed and incapable of talking to girls. Mother, Linda (Maya Rudolph) is the family peacemaker, while her husband, Rick (Danny McBride), is so out of touch with the changing times, it hurts. Ask this man to send a simple text message and he struggles helplessly – and his idea of trying to bond with his daughter, as she prepares to leave home for college, is to set up an across country family drive to California, so they can all reconnect.

But, en route to their destination, an unexpected problem occurs. Like most other people in America, the Mitchells use PAL as their provider of all things digital – a brief look at one of the company’s pompous launch events tells you that we could easily substitute the word APPLE or FACEBOOK. Helmed by young social media impresario, Mark Bowman (Eric André), PAL is a complex system that can run every aspect of a human’s life. But, when Mark decides it’s time for an upgrade to a more sophisticated version, PAL doesn’t appreciate being made redundant and decides to initiate a coup. Almost before humankind knows quite what’s happening, they are being becoming slaves to their own creation.

But the Mitchells are not ones to give in easily…

Wittily scripted by writer/directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe, TMVTM takes off at a gallop and rarely pauses to stop for breath. The state of the art animation is cleverly interwoven with more simplistic flourishes, clearly designed to mirror the style we’re shown in Katie’s homemade animations and there’s a sprightly rock soundtrack against which a frantic series of chases and punch ups plays out. For those seeking a little more depth to the proceedings, there are also visual references to famous movies mixed into the formula. I spotted half a dozen on the first watch, and I’ve no doubt repeated viewings would unearth many more. Be warned, some of them are pretty obscure. (Look at the pattern on Katie’s socks, for instance. Do they remind you of a carpet in a famous movie hotel?) Seriously, movie nerds are going to have a field day with this.

The master stroke though, is having the villainous PAL voiced by Olivia Colman. Hearing her sweet tones wrap themselves around some very nasty commands is probably worth the price of a Netflix subscription all by itself. Oh and the Mitchells are also the owners of an amusing dog called Doug the Pug. Win, win.

Okay, so TMVTM does have a broad sweep of sentimentality running through its core, though it never feels too overdone. While this animation might not be on punching terms with the top rank of Pixar productions, it’s nonetheless a welcome slice of exuberant escapism with a serious message at its core.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney