Director(s): Michael Rianda, Jeff Rowe
Writer(s): Michael Rianda, Jeff Rowe
Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph
Synopsis: A quirky, dysfunctional family’s road trip is upended when they find themselves in the middle of the robot apocalypse and suddenly become humanity’s unlikeliest last hope.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller have become two names in Hollywood where if they are attached to a project, I immediately know it’s going to be good. Whatever the pairing gets into, whether it be writing, directing, or producing, I have full faith in them to bring about a film that is as stylistically beautiful as it is funny and emotional.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines, previously known as ‘Connected’, should’ve probably kept the original name it was given. That’s because this film is all about connection. Not just the over-connection we have with our devices, but the lack of connection we have with the people who really matter to us.
This film, like Into the Spider-Verse will be seen as a “Lord and Miller” film in the same way that The Nightmare Before Christmas is seen as a Tim Burton movie, when Burton never wrote or directed the film. And while this film has a very authentic Lord and Miller visual style (looking similar to a mix of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and Into the Spider-Verse), we can’t discredit the people who actual brought the vision to life. For writer/directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe, this is their first feature length film, and they were able to not only bring a touching story to life, but do it in such a visually exuberant way.
A dad is given one last chance to connect with his daughter before she heads off to college. Abbi Jacobson’s Katie is an artistic future film student, while Danny McBride’s Rick is an outdoorsy person who never fully understood this dream that Katie is pursuing. The story here, albeit fairly straightforward, is a whole-fully touching one. It is one that should really cut deep with people who are longing for that kind of connection with their parents, but also have always had a dream they are trying to follow. The banter between Rick and Katie is pitch perfect, and is what I clung onto the most. It was relatable in the way where I have had these conversations, and in this film, they are addressed in an honest and real way that I connected to. Their connection was lost, but throughout the film we were able to watch and see them grow together in ways they never would have imagined. While the story might be fairly “by the books”, how it is told is what really strikes through the screen.
The zany and eccentric nature, and wonderful nostalgic elements, really draw you in, in the same way as Into the Spider-Verse, and the emotional beats work because of your investment with the film. This film is exciting, insane, nostalgic, and provides the right amount of moments that really get the waterworks to start flowing. The style of filmmaking always felt fresh and real. You hardly ever see the same shot or moment more than once, and you never get tired of the wackiness of the visuals.
The biggest standouts of the film have to be Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett playing a pair of defective robots. The two really bring a lot to the film in terms of voice acting and provide some of the more hilarious and touching moments between the Mitchells and the robots. I would definitely watch an entire animated film of them going on an adventure because they were a blast together.
The one issue I had with this was the villain. Olivia Colman did a fine job voicing the villain, but this is where the film really became a little too generic for me. You understand the villains agenda, but it’s hard to ever really sympathize with them. Which no, you don’t always have to sympathize with the villain, but it wasn’t like there were ever really any tense moments. It makes sense because it is a kids animated movie, but you can tell pretty early on that the bulk of the story was put into the relationship between Rick and Katie. This isn’t a bad thing, and is definitely the right move, I just think with a little better villain, or even no villain at that, this film could have reached that higher level.
Final: The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a zany and heartfelt animated film that proves whenever you see “Lord Miller Productions” you are in for a treat. A weak villain isn’t enough to deter the real story of a father and his daughter regaining a lost connection. A surefire hit between parents and their kids that will likely be a 2022 Animated Feature Oscar contender.
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.