As a film enthusiast and a father of young kids, I watch a lot of animated films. For years now, Pixar has been the top dog, winning 11 Oscars for Best Animated Feature Film in the 20 years since it became an award in 2002. Disney’s animated films have always beloved and their computer animated films have come leaps and bounds in the past decade.
This year despite the numerous Pixar and Disney animated films released (Encanto, Disney; Luca, Pixar; Raya and the Last Dragon, Disney), Sony Pictures Animation’s “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” could be a surprise upset, if “Flee” the international animated documentary falters.
“The Mitchells vs the Machines” is a story about a teenager who is headed off to her dream film school in Los Angeles, California, but for years her and her dad have seemed to drift apart. Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is a creative-type who is always on her phone taking videos, making shorts, and telling stories in quirky and funny ways, using her family and their pug (pig dog), Monchie as the main characters. Her dad, Rick (Danny McBride), loves the outdoors, teaches his kids survival skills, and has never used a computer. He can’t seem to connect with Katie in a meaningful way. His well-intentioned efforts seem to only drive them further apart.
Despite some “coaching” by his wife, Linda (Maya Rudolph), Rick ruins the family’s last night together before Katie catches a flight to film school, and his attempt to make it up to them is cancel her plane ticket and plan an impromptu family, cross-country road trip. Despite her frustration, Katie goes along knowing that at the end of it, she will be at film school and forever “free” of her family.
While the Mitchells travel out to California, the big tech giant in their world announcing a new AI, machine learning tech that will be a life-sized smart robot that will make life better and easier for all, until it immediately becomes self-aware and decides to capture all humankind and send them off the planet for good.
This part of the plot is where it gets a little more weird and it’s actually my least favorite part of the plot. But the way the family bands together, re-connects, starts to understand each other better, and then works together as a team to defeat the world-threatening crisis is the best aspect of the film. It has a bit of an “Incredibles” feel, if the family had older kids that instead of superpowers are extra quirky and weird, but uses their complementary skills and abilities to overcome the evil AI called Pal (Olivia Colman).
There are constant laughs throughout the movie. But despite the gags, there are also some touching family moments, as they must all learn to get over their differences and come together to learn what it really means to be a family. As a parent, there were different themes to explore later with the kids or touchstones to bring up if it seemed like we were out of sync as a family.
If you have Netflix, this is a great movie to watch, even if you don’t have kids. It is streaming free for subscribers on Netflix, and it’s also available to rent now on Redbox. You can also rent the film on demand on services like Vudu or Amazon Prime.