It’s not every day when a movie comes out that will make you split your sides laughing and then make you cry while calling your father, but “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is that movie. Long time “Gravity Falls” writer, Mike Rianda’s first movie better not be his last because it is quite possibly the best animated film of the year. “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” follows aspiring filmmaker Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson), who is trying to survive her stressful family during a surprise road trip to her college that soon spirals into trying to survive the robot apocalypse. As the family becomes unlikely heroes for all of mankind, they begin to finally connect, especially Katie and her technophobic father, Rick (a standout performance from Danny McBride).
It will come as no surprise to fans of “Gravity Falls” that the film is full of hilarious gags, running jokes and bits of satire. The apocalypse in this world is a commentary of our obsession with technology where here, our phones and new AI robots are tired of us using and abusing them so they seek revenge by shutting off the wi-fi (oh no) which leads to one disaster after another. This satire is smartly not just used for a “technology is bad” lesson but adds to the connection between Katie and Rick, where Katie’s career as a filmmaker depends on this technology and where Rick, a nature man at heart, is happy if technology never advances. This conflict between the two comes to a nice head when Rick realizes that if technology can help his daughter make the movies she loves, then it isn’t all bad. This realization not only makes the film’s satire of technology more complicated than just “phone bad,” but it adds to the connection between the film’s father and daughter. While the satirical edge of the film leads to some hilarious commentary, such as citizens flocking to a trap from the robot’s just because they advertise free wi-fi and a demonic giant Furby, the strongest bits of humor are from the characters themselves.
The Mitchells as a family unit is hilarious, from the youngest son’s (Mike Rianda) obsession with dinosaurs to their dog that looks like a pig a dog, and a loaf of bread all at once (a running joke that actually becomes a smart plot device to kill the robots since their confusion over this causes them to glitch). The jokes relating to the Mitchells are so hyper specific to who they are as characters, from Rick being a bit of an apocalypse prepper to the mother, Linda (Maya Rudolph), turning into a robot assassin once her mama bear adrenaline is pushed to the limit. Jokes like this not only add for hilarious moments but moves the plot forward and even the smallest joke from the first thirty minutes can come back for the climax which makes it seem weirdly plausible that this family is the only one who can save the world. The little details of the lives of the Mitchells makes them feel like a real lived family, that the audience is watching a family with stories and embarrassing memories, that the audience is watching a family that can very well be their own. While the humor with this family is a standout, it’s their connection and drama that really took me by surprise.
Katie, being an aspiring filmmaker leaving her family for college, really is the heart of the film. Katie is a beautiful stand in for every film student, she loves weird old movies, critical darlings, and is starting off by making funny sketches that her family often has to take part in. Every current film student or former film student will see themselves in Katie’s enthusiasm and dedication. This means that her conflict with her family, mainly her father who doesn’t understand her movies and fears that she’s making the wrong life decisions, may come off as very relatable. While the film could have easily been just Katie and Rick arguing, the real heart of the film comes from the two trying to connect, especially during an apocalypse, from Rick trying to teach Katie to drive stick to always trying to show her dad her movies. Moments like this show that the characters, like a real family, are trying to understand one another.
The film even feels like a movie that Katie would make, from the bright colors to quirky villains to the doodle meme level inserts throughout the film. It almost feels like a movie a film student wrote out in their notebook in between classes, which is a strength of both the tone and the heart of the film. In moments when we see little sock puppets and doodles around the border, we as the audience get a glimpse into how Katie sees the world, which is a delightful perspective to be able to have, especially in an apocalypse. As I sit here and write this, I am two weeks from graduating film school. I watched The “Mitchells vs. the Machines” at the height of my confusion towards the scary unknown of the future. Katie Mitchell’s enthusiasm and love for film reminded me why I’m even here in the first place and she took me back to my enthusiastic freshman self. If you long to return to that point of life or just want to laugh about how this family makes your family seem normal, then The “Mitchells vs. the Machines” is the film for you.
“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is available to stream on Netflix.