I have to be honest, I wouldn’t have watched this film if it wasn’t for its link with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. From the Netflix trailer, it just seemed like any other family animation mixed with every repetitive homicidal AI sci-fi film. Yes, it looked good and there were elements that really interested me. Mostly Olivia Colman. I didn’t think it was gong to be bad but I just wasn’t the market for something so seemingly unoriginal. Then this weekend happened and I hadn’t watched a new film for today’s post. There was only one thing to do. Find the quickest and easiest thing to watch on Netflix.
If you ignore the story, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is as accomplished and outstanding as Into the Spider-Verse. Visually it is absolutely stunning. This is a dynamic film that mixed 2D and 3D texture to great effect. There there are the added doodles that filter through from the main character’s head. The doodles that turn her reality into a movie. It’s exciting and refreshing animation. Its beautiful and it feels alive. I cannot fault the aesthetic of this film at all. Even the action sequences, that can be so tricky for animated films, really work well. It has a great energy and it doesn’t try to over complicate matters. I’d say that it more than makes up for the slightly uninspiring story.
It’s not as if the narrative of the film isn’t fun because it is. It’s your classic dysfunctional family have to come together to save the world kind of thing. Together it’s a bit of a wild and crazy ride but, once you start to take the elements apart, it becomes rather more formulaic. The major storyline is hardly a new one. A tech company reveals its latest update and inadvertently releases a violent AI on the world. With the rest of humanity captured, its up to the Mitchells to stop the uprising. Unfortunately, they’re not your average family. Katie is an aspiring filmmaker who is desperate to get out of hometown and attend film school. Her father, Rick, doesn’t understand technology and cannot appreciate his daughter’s calling. To repair their fractured relationship, the family take off on a road trip to take Katie to college. Can the stubborn pair manage to find a compromise?
Then there are few minor subplots like Katie’s younger brother trying to find an equally dinosaur obsessed friend to hang out with one his sister leaves. Or her mother who is obsessed with looking perfect to compete with their neighbours. There’s nothing wrong with these stories but they’re also ideas that we’ve seen countless times before. The overall message about technology and family aren’t new and I’d say that the story has very little influence on what makes this film great. Yes, it certainly has fun with the concepts and there is lot of playfulness here. Like Kate’s constant need to turn her life into a film or the pair of malfunctioning robots that the family adopt along the way. Its just a shame that the story isn’t anywhere near as revolutionary as the animation is.
Although, there is still a lot to praise about this film. For one thing, it ticks some decent LGBTQ+ representation boxes. There are only a couple of really obvious references to this during the film but, for the most part, it’s handled in a very subtle and subdued way. As it really should be. Katie’s sexuality doesn’t come into the storyline and isn’t responsible for the tension between father and daughter. It just is what it is. It’s not shoehorned in and there is no big reveal. It’s definitely a step in the right direction and something that I hope becomes a regular occurrence.
It’s possible that I’m being a bit hard on this film because, as I said, it’s enjoyable. There are plenty of jokes and it provides non-stop entertainment throughout. The voice cast is all perfect for their respective roles and the characters really come to life. This is a film that is driven by a sense of fun and isn’t afraid to play up the references and in-jokes. It’s a very good film. I just still can’t get away from the fact that, animation aside, this feels like a film that I’ve definitely seen before.