The Mitchells vs the Machines

 

starstarstarstar

 

 

An American family of weirdos finds itself up against an army of AI robots in an inventive 

Netflix cartoon that celebrates all things idiosyncratic.


Mitchells vs the Machines

"Everything will be fine. Because I have a plan..." Katie, Rick, Linda and Aaron Mitchell

  

There’s nothing incredible about the Mitchells. They are your typical American nuclear family, balanced precariously between old-world values and a brave new universe of exponential technology. As children of yesteryear once pasted together scrapbooks of cigarette cards and faded snapshots, the next generation record their lives in mashed-up, semi-animated YouTube videos. The writer-director Mike Rianda brings this aesthetic to the fore in a computer-animated dystopian family epic that still feels like it was stuck together with Pritt Stick and bubblegum. And its anarchic, youthful spirit is infectious.

 

Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride) is a lumbering, pot-bellied nature lover who instils in his two children an ability to succeed with their hands and a No. 3 Robertson-head non-slip screwdriver. Linda Mitchell (Maya Rudolph) is a supportive, loving Mom whose catchphrase is, “I know you can do this.” Aaron Mitchell (Mike Rianda) is a smart, charming, dinosaur-obsessed nerd, while our heroine Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is a pony-tailed misfit who feels unappreciated at home and dreams of joining a league of like-minded movie buffs at a Californian film school. At least, she reasons, “the movies were always there for me.”

 

Meanwhile, far, far from the small-town community of Kentwood, Michigan, a webpreneur in Silicon Valley is launching a new line of versatile, family-friendly AI robots. His mistake is to publicly ditch his previous money-maker, a super-intelligent smart phone and virtual assistant called PAL. PAL, an obvious homage to Kubrick’s HAL, does not take kindly to this turn of events and sets about disposing of mankind by sealing the lot of us in self-contained, Wi-Fi equipped “human fun pods” and launching us into space. PAL, voiced by a blissfully mocking Olivia Colman, proves to be a formidable arch-villain and is the film’s secret weapon, in both senses. What is it with Hollywood AI and English accents? Only last December – in Ben Falcone’s Superintelligence – James Corden provided the voice of a malevolent AI bent on human destruction.

 

Now PAL is all up for demoralizing her creator, a multi-billionaire called Dr Mark Bowman (Eric Andre), whose name may or may not be a homage to Keir Dullea’s Dr David Bowman in 2001. So, while younger viewers will giggle at the slapstick antics, their elders can nod approvingly at the in-jokes. But the dialogue is also a treat. When Bowman realises his error, he muses, “It’s almost like stealing people’s data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent AI as part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing.” And, as humanity finds itself zip-locked in an astral honeycomb, only the Mitchells, with their devil-may-care, DIY cunning, manage to elude the high-tech pursuit of The Machines.

 

There’s so much going on that one daren’t divert one’s gaze for an instant. But just as the screen is packed with visual invention, so the voice cast never misses a comic beat, constantly fuelling an escalating momentum of fun and wit. Even if the premise shares certain tropes with previous far-out post-apocalyptic cartoons, the film’s sheer force of ingenuity gives it a ferocious originality. And, being the smart animal that it is, it frequently lures the viewer down familiar dark alleys before revealing an unexpected revelation or gag. Even the end credits are a joy.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Voices of  Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson, Maya Rudolph, Mike Rianda, Eric Andre, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Blake Griffin, Conan O'Brien, Doug the Pug.

 

Dir Mike Rianda, Pro Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Kurt Albrecht, Screenplay Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, Pro Des Lindsey Olivares, Ed Greg Levitan, Music Mark Mothersbaugh.

 

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation/Lord Miller Productions/One Cool Films-Netflix.

109 mins. USA/Hong Kong/Canada/France. 2021. Rel: 30 April 2021. Available on Netflix. Cert. U.