(WXYZ) — Tom Santilli is a respected journalist and member of the Critics Choice Association, Detroit Film Critics Society and Online Film Critics Society since 2010. Tom is the Executive Producer and co-host of the syndicated TV show, "Movie Show Plus," which has been on the air for 20+ years in the Metro-Detroit market and Mid-West. He is also the film critic for WXYZ-TV. Twitter: @tomsantilli, Facebook & Instagram: @filmsurvivor.
Beautifully animated, hilarious and inventive, "The Mitchells vs. The Machines" is exactly what you'd expect from "The LEGO Movie" directing duo, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller...however this time they only produced. The new filmmaking pair of Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe ("Rianda & Rowe") have a catchier name and they make the most of their inaugural directing effort.
"The Mitchells vs. The Machines" is an absolute blast, and you're sure to love it whether you're a kid, an adult or even a robot.
Heart? Check. Laughs? Check. Inventiveness and creativity? Check and check. "The Mitchells vs. The Machines" (once called "Connected" until a late-game title change), was set to have a theatrical release back in January 2020 before it was moved to September 2020...little did they know at the time that the film was moved right into a pandemic, so as things worsened around the country, the movie was again delayed into October, before being moved again. In January of 2021, the movie rights were purchased by Netflix from Sony Pictures Releasing (Sony Pictures Animation is responsible for the making of the movie) and it was set up with its current release schedule.
The wait was worth it, and it lost none of its charm or relevancy to the times. It's mainly a story about a family - The Mitchells - who learn to communicate, understand and appreciate one another, against the backdrop of global domination when smart phones and intelligent robots take over the world.
The older college-age daughter, Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) is a film buff, who has been creating her own films starring the family pug - Doug the Pug - since she was little. She has what could be called "normal" relationships with her loving mother Linda (Maya Rudolph) and her younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda), but the film is really centered around Katie and her dad, Rick (Danny McBride). Like many fathers out there, Rick is a hard-working man who works with his hands...he doesn't know the first thing about computers and has a tremendously difficult time relating to his more creative-minded daughter.
Elsewhere, Dr. Bowman (Eric Andre) is set to release an even smarter version of his popular PAL software (taking the place here for Apple, and also a nod to the super-smart computer known as "HAL" in Kubrick's classic "2001: A Space Odyssey"). But the old AI (Olivia Colman), still being intelligent and all, takes over and enslaves all humans in the process. The only ones that slip through the net - er, web - is the Mitchells, and two robots that have been damaged that join in with them (voiced by none other than Fred Armisan and Beck Bennett...Conan O'Brien, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen and Blake Griffin also lend voices).
To save the world, The Mitchells set off on a road trip, dysfunctional at first but slowly learning how to work with one another and utilize each of their strengths. The relationship between Rick and Katie is special and organic not to mention relatable to any grown-up desperately trying to connect with someone from the younger, more tech-savvy generation.
If this is a movie for kids, it's also the kind of sophisticated movie that adults will thoroughly enjoy as well, and it even packs a surprising emotional punch. It's pretty much everything you can ask for in a family movie, with an original story to boot. Not only is the animation top-notch and expressive, its innovative: While The Mitchells exist in that 3D Computer-Generated space that we've come to expect in a modern animated movie, Katie's thoughts and feelings are expressed via old-school 2D animation that pops up whenever needed. The mix of old and new is not just slick, it also conveys the film's overriding message.
My only quibble with the film is dealing with the voice of the brother character, and how under-cooked this character (and the mom) feel in comparison to the father and daughter. The young boy (voiced by one of the film's adult directors) has an unnaturally mature voice that sort of knocks you out of the film's magic every time he speaks...he's also not given much to do. Talk about an annoying little brother.
It's early, but great animated movies have been hard to come by in recent years, especially if they haven't come from Pixar. This is one of those films. It will be hard to beat "The Mitchells vs. The Machines" when it comes to best animated films of 2021, and it may even find itself on a few "Best of" lists just in general. Coming on the heels of "Raya and the Last Dragon" - which was also original and exceptional - when it comes to Animated Films, 2021 is off to one heck of a great start. There is nothing artificial about this intelligent, heart-warming and thoroughly enjoyable family adventure, and I can't recommend it enough.
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy.
Run Time: 1 hour 53 minutes.
Starring (voices of): Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Olivia Colman, Eric André, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Conan O'Brien.
Written and Directed by Michael Rianda & Jeff Rowe (directorial debuts for both).
"The Mitchells vs. The Machines" is available on Netflix on Friday, April 30th, 2021.