Don’t mess with the Mitchells.
You wouldn’t want to upset Olivia Colman, especially if she has a robot army on her side. The Oscar winner gives her voice to an apocalyptically disgruntled algorithm in The Mitchells vs. The Machines, a new animated caper on Netflix.
Co-produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the men behind Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,and the , The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a great romp through a robot apocalypse led by a smartphone personal assistant who has had enough. This could happen if Siri got tired of being poked, stolen, and dropped in the bathroom.
Caught in theThis animated family film was known for short as Connected. Fortunately, that eye-catching generic title went out of the window and for Netflix’s release date, it reverted to the much quirkier The Mitchells vs. The Machines – fitting for a movie about flying your freak flag.
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From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Black Mirror, the increasing role technology plays in our lives has always been a cause for concern. In this film, the ubiquitous intelligent personal assistant PAL proves to be even more sinister than the grueling supercomputer HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Wait, HAL / PAL? I just got this!
Eric Andre approaches a tech billionaire named Mark who accidentally unbalances his own PAL software system voiced by Colman. PAL unleashes a horde of robots to track down every human being on the planet – except for a family to escape and become the last hope of humanity. Which is honestly not so great for humanity, as the Mitchells are a dysfunctional clan of crazy people who can’t even get through a family road trip unlucky.
Teen daughter Katie voiced byI can’t wait to get rid of her annoying dad and go to film school. Dad is stunned by her meme-inspired art but decides to fix fences by driving her to college. Everything goes terribly until the robot apocalypse breaks their bond and the fun really begins.
The bad guys are cheerful iPod-like robots that fire neon lasers and swing to futuristic synthesizers in a Tron-style headquarters. The quirky animation style contains disrespectful YouTube and Instagram-inspired filters and animations that bathe the screen in raging colors. The anarchic animation style is great fun and certainly gives the film a different energy than the quieter aesthetic of a Pixar movie like Soul.
A bunch of neat gags plays with the viewer’s familiarity with the technology we use every day like a giant Wi-Fi button for the whole world. One comic set piece is the Mitchell’s struggle to find items in a mall that have not inexplicably been upgraded with a smart chip. Challenge the family to desperately try to escape a new breed of wicked washing machines and toasters that haunt them through the mall. This leads to a showdown with a restarted and newly intelligent classic children’s toy that brings us the most joyful surreal moments in the film.
A good adult gag is that the picture-perfect neighbors who cause Instagram jealousy are voiced by. Meanwhile, the insidious conspiracy to get rid of humanity is to lure everyone into individual cells called “fun pods.” This plan is bloodless enough for younger viewers, and it also offers a shrewd glimpse into how we blindly embrace the latest technology, even when we know it’s bad for us. But tech fans may be amused that the key to defeating the robots turns out to be a real challenge for the AI, even though the robots not only confuse an algorithm, they EXPLODE.
Sure, it doesn’t really make sense that the Mitchells are the only people in the world who have escaped the Android army. And the damaged robots that provide them with information to further develop the storyline are a great invention, as is the world famous PAL, which is conveniently contained in a single vulnerable telephone handset. But the film races past those worries with so much charm and energy that it’s not worth worrying about.
The biggest thing that doesn’t quite hold together is the family’s supposedly broken relationship. We learned that Katie and her dad are irreparably at odds, but the friction we actually see on screen is pretty harmless. Danny McBride’s father figure is more clueless or embarrassing than negligible or hateful.
And the technical side of things is not quite right: smartphone addiction is actually not your problem. The only time the dad complains about everyone looking at his cell phone is a moment when it is justified by the big news he just learned. And Maya Rudolph’s mother character suffers from Instagram envy, but it doesn’t force her to force another life or project the wrong image.
Meanwhile, Katie goes to film school even though she’s obviously not interested in the kind of films you learn to make in film school. Aside from referring to Ghostbusters, she doesn’t even seem like that cinephile. Your crazy YouTube friendly Nyan Cat style Flash animations seem to have been made 10 years ago. I can’t even see that she wants to waste college time when she could build a following on Instagram and Instagramor whatever the newest platform is, I’m too old to know about it.
So none of the family is trying to be someone they are not – they are already doing a great job owning their craziness. But the moral of enjoying the quirks of yourself and others is still a clear and positive message. The film also avoids preaching about the dangers of technology, gently reminding us that what matters is how we use it to connect with one another.
Funnily enough, this is also a family film that has a message for the whole family, not just the teenagers. Yes, like most films of this type, it encourages children to be themselves. But it also encourages parents not to bother about social media and appreciate their children’s creativity – even if what the kids are creating doesn’t make sense.
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