Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are credited as producers here, but as with Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, their fingerprints are all over this extremely enjoyable Netflix animation. As well as sharing a visual DNA with their madcap CG toon Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, The Mitchells Vs. The Machines is as irreverently funny as 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie. And, like Spider-Verse, it has a unique visual style that rewards close inspection.
With Lord/Miller behind the scenes, Mike Rianda directs, sharing writing duties with co-director Jeff Rowe. Originally known as Connected – its 2020 release date was postponed several times before it was snapped up by Netflix – the new Ronseal title is much truer to the film’s anarchic spirit.
It follows the titular family of four (plus pug), as teenage daughter Katie (Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson) prepares to leave home for film school. She’s content to fly, but dad Rick (Danny McBride) spies a chance to mend their ailing relationship by driving her, cross-country, to her dorm room, along with mum Linda (Maya Rudolph) and brother Aaron (voiced by Rianda).
Where the machines come into it is from Apple-like tech company Pal: during the launch of a new line of humanoid robots, long-suffering digi-ssistant PAL (Olivia Colman) takes matters into her own OS, commanding the fleet of sleek helpers (and any other tech she can hook up to) to enslave humanity. Imagine Gerard Butler’s Greenland adapted by The Simpsons, and you get the gist of this family-in-peril-on-the-road adventure.
Joyfully, TMVTM eschews CGI photorealism for a look that’s altogether more cartoony and textured. Katie makes her own hand-hewn, sweded movies, and her scrapbook-y imagination frequently bleeds out into the world. Alongside the frantic action set-pieces and consistent laughs (many of which come from Monchi the pug and two dim-witted Pal robots who join the Mitchells on their journey), there is also heart here: the central father-daughter clashes are grounded with generous empathy, and build to a quite moving conclusion.
Many gags will whoosh over the heads of younger audience members, and it’s perhaps a tad too long for four-quadrant viewing. But amid the apocalyptic chaos, there’s plenty that families will relate to, from dysfunctional disagreements to screen-time addiction to irritatingly perfect neighbors. Plus, there’s a genius use of a licensed product to rival anything in The Lego Movie. When it comes to The Mitchells Vs. The Machines, everyone’s a winner.
The Mitchells vs the Machines is available on Netflix from April 30. In US theatres from Friday, April 23. For more, check out the best Netflix movies currently streaming.