Saying that you have the worst family in history is a pretty big claim. When it’s followed by an introduction to each family member that details how they are all slightly annoying, that claim tends to fall flat pretty quickly. However, when this entire exchange is the opening to a children’s movie about psychotic robots who want to destroy humanity without actually hurting or really inconveniencing anyone, it’s a lot easier to put the braggadocio aside and accept the premise that “slightly dysfunctional” is akin to “Manson” and hope that there will be enough laughs to keep the parents engaged while the kids learn some valuable lessons about team work. By this measure, Sony Animation’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a rousing success that blends humor, heart, and tongue-in-cheek musings on the destructive nature of perpetual interconnectedness into fast-paced joy ride that the whole family can enjoy.
Despite the repeated claims to the contrary, The Mitchell’s are actually a pretty normal family. Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is a surly teenager who can’t wait to get out of the house and share her “art” with the world, a noble ambition, even if that art consists of low-budget home movies that star sock puppets, dog puppets, and even the occasional hamburger puppet. Aaron (Mike Rianda) has a little boy’s obsession with dinosaurs, which he takes to logical extreme of calling up everyone in the phone book to ask if they want to talk a little t. rex. Rick (Danny McBride) is the sort of father who loves the outdoors and can fix anything, but has trouble relating to his kids’ interests. And Linda (Maya Rudolph) is a first-grade teacher and mom who has a particularly obnoxious habit of wanting everyone to love each other and grow as people. Gross.
As fathers and teenage daughters tend to do, Katie and Rick have spent years slowly drifting apart. When Katie’s first day of college rears its ugly – or, depending on your perspective, long overdue — head, Rick decides it’s time to fix their relationship, and has a brilliant idea as to how he should go about it: by forcibly trapping an angsty teen into a cramped car with her entire family on a cross country road trip. As annoying as this plan might be on its own merits, things get exponentially more annoying when tech bro Mark Zucker…sorry, Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) announces that he’s replacing the virtual assistant on millions of phones with actual real-life, walking, talking robot assistants. While your average virtual assistant may struggle to understand what song you want to play or how long you want to set a timer for, the PAL robots can do just about anything. They can cook, clean, break dance, and even override their kill codes and enslave all of humanity, all of which are skills that they are happy to demonstrate at their at their splashy, Apple-esque launch event. Within a few short minutes, the entire population of the plant is swept up into personal entertainment pods and deposited into The Rhombus of Infinite Subjugation, a space-bound vessel designed to relegate the entire species to permanent comfort as they sail endlessly away from the Earth, leaving the new robot overlords alone to rebuild a perfect society in peace.
Through sheer dumb luck, The Mitchells are the only humans on the planet who manage to escape capture and turn the robot apocalypse into the ultimate team building workshop. Though the terribleness of their family may be exaggerated, their differences are anything but. Katie and Rick must put years of detachment and mistrust aside in order to work together as they battle killer robots, outsmart an army of infected Furbys, and make their way to the PAL headquarters to upload the circumvented kill codes needed to save humanity. Though the arc of their bonding will likely be fairly predictable to anyone over the age of ten, the superb voice acting brings and impeccable comedic timing fill the journey with enough fun and emotion to make the family seem oddly relatable, even if their circumstances most certainly do not.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Stars
The Mitchells vs. The Machines ranks among the very best offerings from Sony Animation. The fast-paced wackiness will be a sure-fire hit with kids, while adults will see themselves in the challenges of post-apocalyptic parenthood. Great writing, great acting, and an infectiously expensive soundtrack come together to tell a smart, funny, and heartwarming story that will resonate with anyone whose family has ever drifted apart, only to find each other again.