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Blu-ray Review: The Mitchells vs. The Machines

January 5, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest animated film from producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, following their Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a madcap adventure from Sony Pictures Animation that mixes sci-fi action and zany comedy with sincere family drama about a queer, film-loving teen reconnecting with her more traditional dad.

It’s a mix that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does, but is nicely pulled off by first time feature director Mike Rianda (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Rowe), taking Lord and Miller’s usual hyper pacing and injecting it with moments of genuine heart.

The film was very nearly released in theatres by Sony under the thoroughly generic title Connected, before the pandemic forced them to sell the rights to Netflix, who restored the film’s original title to The Mitchells vs. The Machines. And this is a much more fitting name for the film, with the literal, self-explanatory, and slightly messy quality of the title more accurately reflecting the tone of the movie as well as the mildly dysfunctional family at its centre and the key obstacle they face together.

The film centres around the Mitchells, a Michigan family made up of dad Rick (Danny McBride), mom Linda (Maya Rudolph), their young adult daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobsen), and dinosaur-obsessed young son Aaron (Rianda). The two members of the family who are most at odds are Rick, a nature-lover who hates technology, and Katie, an avid movie buff who is always making quirky, hyper-stylized short films on her computer. Katie has just been accepted into film school in California, and is looking forward to moving out on her own and finding “her people.”

When a father-daughter fight over her artistic dreams leads to a broken laptop, Rick tries to make things right with Katie (and have some quality family bonding time) by cancelling her plane ticket and packing up the old station wagon to drive her to university. But their impromptu family road trip coincides with an announcement from Mark Bowman (Eric André), CEO of the Apple-like PAL Labs, who is unveiling the company’s new robot assistants. When the Siri-inspired voice assistant in his smartphone (Olivia Colman) feels resentful of being replaced, she reprograms the robots to take over the world, leaving the Mitchells to face off against a robot apocalypse.

The film is built around the high concept premise of what would happen if our iPhones gained sentience and tried to take over the world, with Rianda exploring these questions about technology replacing us through the guise of a classic road trip narrative. While the themes about a father and daughter who no longer see eye to eye learning how to reconnect are not entirely new, the film probes the relationship between Rick and Katie in a very heartfelt way. It gets added points for having the character be pretty openly queer, with Katie crushing on a girl at her university that she is excited to meet.

Like Spider-Verse, The Mitchells vs. The Machines has a highly unique animation style that appears somewhere between 2D and 3D. Where as that film looked like a comic book, the look of this one almost recalls the illustrations in a picture book. It’s meant to have a slightly scrappy, homemade quality to it, with some onscreen graphics right out of Katie’s short films. These stylistic touches are occasionally distracting. As with other Lord and Miller productions, the hyperactive impulses of The Mitchells vs. The Machines can overwhelm the senses at times, with the film’s constant need to be hip and cool sometimes feeling like too much.

Still, the film is genuinely funny at times, with some amusing running gags (for all their technological advancements, the robots still can’t quite distinguish if the family’s pug Monchi is a dog, a pig or a loaf of bread). The animation is great to look at, and the film is topped off with a nice, synthy score by Mark Mothersbaugh that recalls the music in Planes, Trains and Automobiles. All in all, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a very enjoyable animated road trip, that offers a good mix of humorous action and a few moments to tug on the heartstrings.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray set, which is dubbed the “Katie Mitchell Special Edition,” boasts a decent amount of bonus features. This includes a secondary cut of the film entitled Katie’s Extended Cinematic Bonanza Cut!, which is introduced by Rianda and features some alternate scenes with less complete animation, running a few minutes longer at 112 minutes.

Furthermore, the menu screen is styled after a Criterion Collection disc, with the discs themselves designed to look like homemade discs that Katie has drawn on with markers. To top it all off, the case includes a mock Criterion essay written by Katie. Since this was a Netflix film, it’s nice to see Sony pulling out all the stops for a physical release. A regular DVD and code for a digital copy are also included in the package.

Dog Cop 7: The Final Chapter (8 minutes, 24 seconds): An all-new short film made with puppets that continues the adventures of Dog Cop seen in the movie. Like all Katie Mitchell productions, it’s a crude mix of sincere and slightly cringey.

Bonus Scenes (25 minutes, 18 seconds): A healthy selection of deleted scenes, presented in storyboard form.

The Mitchells Learn to Love the Robots! (3 minutes, 21 seconds)

Katie’s Sneaky Dog Cop Apology (2 minutes, 3 seconds)

Katie Mitchell – The Most Popular Girl in Town (4 minutes, 16 seconds)

The Mitchells Meet the (Vice) President (6 minutes, 47 seconds)

Technology Takeover – With Bonus Cruelty to a Child! (1 minute, 21 seconds)

Everyboy Loves Killbot (47 seconds)

The Robots Attack – Early Version (4 minutes, 47 seconds)

Cold Open – Old PAL Infomercial (2 minutes, 29 seconds)

Katie’s Cabinet of Forgotten Wonders (11 minutes, 24 seconds): A selection of behind the scenes glimpses and early test footage from the film.

Katie-Vision! (2 minutes, 49 seconds):

Dumb Robots Trailer (2 minutes, 2 seconds):

The Original Mitchells Story Pitch (3 minutes, 54 seconds):

The Furby Scene – How? Why? (1 minute, 33 seconds):

Pal’s World (1 minute, 20 seconds):

The Mitchells vs. The Machines: Or How a Group of Passionate Weirdos Made a Big Animated Movie (12 minutes, 49 seconds): A look at the production of the film, Rianda’s personal connection to the story, and the unique animation style.

How To… (3 minutes, 39 seconds): A pair of short craft tutorials inspired by the movie.

Make Sock Puppets (1 minute, 48 seconds):

Make Katie Face Cupcakes (1 minute, 56 seconds):

Filmmakers’ Commentary

The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 109 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: December 14th, 2021

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