When looking back on Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s resume, it speaks for itself. Starting with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the duo has gone on to write or produce some of the best-animated films of the past decade, including The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, which went on to sweep the Awards season, along with an Academy Award win for Animated Feature. Lord & Miller always deliver.
What’s worked best for the duo is while delivering films that will please children, their movies often incorporate adult themes that stick with viewers upon conclusion. Their latest production venture, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, is no different, as the film captures the frenetic energy, heart, and emotion laid out in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs while offering mature themes in its storytelling that echoes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
The film’s premise offers a blend of a coming-of-age story, road trip comedy, and a sci-fi adventure while also being very self-aware of the tropes of both genres, which adds to the film’s greatness. While the “computers taking over the world” trope has been done on numerous occasions, what The Mitchells vs. the Machines does so well is it takes away the blame on the machine and places it on the carelessness and self-obsession of humans with technology itself.
I, for one, am pretty guilty of being glued to my phone daily, and the running jokes of “what do we do when we don’t have our devices” works so well throughout the film. While consumer greed and obsession are at the forefront, the film’s true mark on cinephiles will be left to explore this “dysfunctional” family. I’ve jokingly said that there are two versions of a family dynamic – the social media dynamic and the actual dynamic – and the Mitchells are like every other family. They deal with daily issues, including the fundamental idea of a parent being disconnected from their eldest child.
That core theme lies in the exceptional voice performances by Abbi Jacobson and Danny McBride. Jacobson’s Katie Mitchell is quirky, driven, and intelligent; however, she longs for approval and support from her father, Rick. McBride offers Rick’s insecurities on a platter for cinephiles to root for this father/daughter duo to settle their differences. Their relationship is being provided with such care that there is an intense love there that lacks a vital element despite their disconnect. Many parents/children at times suffer from miscommunication. By the film’s conclusion, it’s hard not to crack a smile with their arch coming full circle.
On the other side, we have the family’s matriarch, Linda, hilariously portrayed by the great Maya Rudolph. She expertly plays the ideal mother who also wants her family to be seen as the gold standard through their social media photos; that combo leads to some hilarious moments throughout the film. Writer/director Mike Rianda is an absolute delight as the neurotic, dinosaur-obsessed younger brother Aaron, whose subtle moments carrying around their pup during the film’s pivotal moments are LOL funny. Outside the family circle, the queen herself, Olivia Colman (The Crown), makes a delightful villain as PAL (Siri substitute here), which leads me to need more animated villainous portrayals by our favorite queen.
While The Mitchells vs. the Machines may be viewed as a bit long on the tooth with its almost 2-hour run time, that did not hurt my overall experience. Quite frankly, the film is one of the very best of the first half of 2021. In a world where animated films are the norm, The Mitchells vs. the Machines does it the right way. They offer a film suitable for both children and adult enjoyment, and even when the film credits roll, we are reminded again of the importance of family.