REVIEW: The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021)
The takeover of the techs is already here, even before the Daily Mail can submit the headline “Naked Schwarzenegger ran STARKERS after emerging from silver sphere” into kinda-journalism’s history book. Siri or Alexa’s innocent chirps of “I don’t understand that” is actually “I’m learning everything about you and humankind and will be using this to destroy you” in disguise. Notice how Google and YouTube have already prepared “panna cotta” recipes when you even think of “panna cotta.” Tesla cars of late seek energy from burgers. All in all, always question the devices you’re connected to — they carry out their insidious invasion while doubling as friendly personal assistants.
That is, in a nutshell, the villain of Sony Pictures Animation and Netflix’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines. There may be flying robots, sinister toasters, vengeful Furbys and other anarchic appliances, but they’re all minions to one Big Bad named — ahem — PAL (Olivia Colman). Ha, told you. After being demoted by its dressed-like-an-undergrad-in-a-cafe creator Mark Bowman (Eric André) on an Apple keynote-esque stage, the far-reaching and shrewd PAL goes rogue and programs everything she has access to into captors of the users she deemed ungrateful. Perhaps it’s the all-American way in which “Mitchells” rolls off the tongue, the U.S. is the setting of this quest to end the techpocalypse and also the nationality of our world-saving, “you’ve gotta be kidding” quintet: crackling future-filmmaker Katie (Abbi Jacobson), practical dad Rick (Danny McBride), hopeful mum Linda (Maya Rudolph), little brother Aaron (Mike Rianda, also the co-director and co-writer), and the cuteness with strabismus that is Monchi (Doug the Pug).
It seems apt that among the cast is an Instagram celebrity, albeit with four legs instead of two. The Mitchells vs. The Machines is very aware of the time in which it’s released, thankfully not through including references of the pandemic but rather employing current mainstays of internet culture such as unabashedly homestyle graphics and potentially sensory-overloading memes. Fans of Nyan Cat, you’re in luck. At times they do get in the way of what Rianda and Jeff Rowe want to impart in their first feature-length outing, creating a bizarre paradox where something hyper-stimulating can feel diluted — nonexistent, even. Aaron is the major casualty here; his dinosaur fever and shy guy-isms never strike the intended humourous level or match the complexity of the other gags. Frankly, it’s valid to consider excising the character and his filler funnies as one way to polish the film further.
The inclusion of the goober, however, boosts Katie’s definition, and that is needed for a journey she is headlining. The film’s former title Connected feels way less epic in scope, but it better represents what Rianda and Rowe would like to highlight in this family film: family. Through Katie’s perspective, as well as her boundless artistic dreams, each Mitchell gets to see how they are seen in the eyes of another Mitchell, or the surface glass on two defective robo-boys Eric (Beck Bennett) and Deborahbot 5000 (Fred Armisen), and realises that all of them are works-in-progress — and are still significant being so. We’re still complete prior to the next patches. Note how the scrapbook illustrations go from comedic add-ons to be closer reflections of Katie’s limitless spirit. That consistent proximity to the character, in all senses of the word, and even with the frenzied swings and wild surprises that would get plenty of nods from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (oh wait, they’re the producers!) reminds how Rianda and Rowe can locate sincere affection amid vivid chaos, something they do often around Gravity Falls.
On that note, throughout the pillage of PAL, it’s normal to sense your heart behind every grin. While a couple of the chips could benefit from more thoughtful designing or streamlining, The Mitchells vs. The Machines could still be an exhilarating and embraceable adventure that looks at the ties that bind — and the updates to your smart devices! Skynet must stay fictional, Bezos, Musk and Cook!
The Mitchells vs The Machines will be available on Netflix from Friday 30 April, 2021.