From the creators of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) comes another dazzling visual dive into animated storytelling through the marriage of 2D and 3D visual imagery. There really was only one thing I expected out of this film and that was, bonkers visuals; after well over a year delay due the pandemic, was that itching hunger satiated? What if I told you yes, and it did something even more.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines makes the interesting decision to follow the perspective of a young girl leaving for college coupled with her relationship with her father as its central point of conflict. This concept of kids “leaving the nest” has been a growing story element in animated kids films in recent years, with The Croods: A New Age (2020) exploring it not 6 months ago – no doubt popularized by the Toy Story Franchise. As mentioned, the point of conflict in this film is that Katie (Abbi Jacobson) has decided to leave for film school, the problem is that her relationship with her father is… less than desirable. On the day of her leaving for college, Katie’s father makes a last ditch attempt to salvage his relationship with his daughter by planning a family road trip. There’s just one problem though, robots just went rampant and are now taking over the entire planet.
Much like any road trip they’re only as fun as the company you keep, and ultimately, it’s about the journey, not the destination. The Mitchells vs. the Machines very much follows these core philosophies as much of the film is specifically about how Katie and her father can resolve their conflict and find common ground with one another. Throughout the film we get to see the perspectives of both of these characters; why they feel the way they do about one another, and ultimately, the root cause. What’s also apparent is that this film is at its most fun when in motion, with its most ingenious comedic moments occuring at “blink and you’ll miss it” points in time. This film, like most animated kids films, reaches a resolution to its conflicts and what becomes apparent is that it really is about the journey in this kids flick, as the final 20 or so minutes provide nothing more exceptional to the journey except for completing the task of wrapping it up.
The voice acting performances in The Mitchells vs. The Machines are generally quite strong, as the casted roles include individuals from a variety of backgrounds; including acting, standup comedy, basketball, and actual professional voice acting – a growing rarity in animated feature films. The most noteworthy performances are led by Abbi Jacobson as the leading role of Katie and Danny McBride as her father, Rick. Abbi Jacobson provides all the necessary emotions and vocal intricacies you want out of a leading voice role, especially a teenage girl with a lot of energy to spare. Danny McBride quite effectively embodies the role of the dimwitted father that is desperately struggling to connect with his daughter. But for every truly strong voice role in this film exists one that doesn’t quite fit the bill. This is a very hyperactive film, driven largely by its technicolor aesthetic and twitchy rapid pacing – with this, there’s a sense of exaggeration in every facet of it, from its visuals to its humor and even the base plot as a whole. I found myself being far more sensitive to out-of-place voice roles throughout, and thus, certain ones stood out to me. Olivia Coleman as PAL (the robotic AI antagonist) felt a little too subdued for such an energetic and maniacal personality. Additionally, Mike Rianda as Aaron (Katie’s brother) audibly sounded far too old for the character he played. These are small gripes, but ones that do stand out in a film that feels like a comic book on acid.
It’s tough to find a position on where I stand with the animation in The Mitchells vs. the Machines. While the quality and the design of the animation featured in the film is outstanding, as it blends naturalistic drawings and overly cartoonish designs. The skeptical part of me is the sensory overload component where frame-breaking layers of visual humor that feature is far too frequent. While this does align with the imaginative mindset of the protagonist, it does become tough to know where exactly your focus is meant to be in the frame. There is a nice blend of 2D and 3D animation that create depth and act cohesively as they switch on moments of emotion – blending nicely into the film’s narrative and adding a truly special visual component to the film.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines contains some overly creative architecture where it almost doesn’t make sense but I can let that slide as per cartoon physics. The location setting keeps up with the rapid-fire pacing of the film and allows for the film to visually flow in-sync even if the locations aren’t particularly interesting or distinguished. Mark Mothersbaugh produces a relevant score to accompany The Mitchells vs. The Machines. The use of robotic synth pieces help elevate certain sequences where the machines are prominent and threatening. Along with the musical score, the film itself also utilises a soundtrack like many films nowadays, the most notable track is Live Your Life by T.I & Rihanna. This song is quite impactful as it is used as the main connection between Rick & Katie’s father/daughter relationship and their journey throughout this film.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines doesn’t break any storytelling boundaries or conventions, it’s simple in its premise and exorbitant in its visual execution and the humor is as jumpy as a kid hopped up on too much candy. This unconventional screenplay and editing style gives this film an identity of its own, a difficult thing to achieve in modern animation. What can I say except, I had fun with it.