The Mitchells vs. The Machines

The Mitchells vs. The Machines ★★½

Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe’s “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is a loud and obnoxious movie wearing the stilettos of a family-friendly animated feature. Perhaps many will be fooled by its blatant disregard for genuine conflict and convincing humans emotions—the fulcrum of the story, after all, is an old-fashioned father and a tech savvy daughter being unable to see eye-to-eye; he a man of nature and practical trade while she a creative teen who wishes to attend film school in liberal California—but those who demand more than eye-catching animation and mindless chase sequences will feel the picture dragging its heels just prior to the one-hour mark.

The reason is because the screenplay is given only half a thought. Once three elements are established—that the Mitchells are a “strange” family (even though in reality they are the typical working-class American family who just so happen to have some quirks), that Rick (voiced by Danny McBride) and Katie (Abbi Jacobson) have grown so far apart that most of their interactions usually end on either an awkward or combative note, and that the villain will be a cell phone (Olivia Colman) that feels angry for having been overshadowed by the next generation of smart tech—minimal consideration is put into how these three elements might tie into one another in a way that is interesting, compelling, or heartfelt. There is barely an hour’s worth of material here and yet it is stretched to over a hundred minutes. I checked my watch at least four times.

Once in a while the material happens to bump into subjects the might be worth exploring, especially in our day and age where a photograph shared on social media can so easily hide reality’s blemishes. For example, the mother, Linda (Maya Rudolph), follows their next door neighbor’s Instagram account—a family who she believes to be a happier, healthier, more successful version of her own. But when the robot apocalypse rolls around, the perfect Poseys end up getting caught and imprisoned in pods. Instead of exploring the idea that perhaps there is a reason why the messy Mitchells are able to overcome whatever challenges the robots throw their way, the screenplay has a nasty habit of going for the lamest jokes and most superficial angles of critique. So although workable ideas are introduced, the movie lacks depth.

In ten years—which is generous—I wager that the majority of the humor on offer will have shown considerable age. That’s the thing about relying on trendy YouTube clips, music of a certain era, or lingo that is only hip for a time. While these are perfectly fine to have, especially for quick chuckles, the comedy’s core must not only be universal, it must be well-defined. Neither characteristic is found here and so the parade of pop culture references grows exhausting. Just because a movie is aimed for children does not mean that the material must be juvenile.

Thus, I did not feel as though the writer-directors respected all of their viewers—only those interested in consuming junk food for nourishment. To me, their priority was how to best come across as witty or clever rather than how to involve audiences in a way that the story goes beyond the medium of animation. This is much closer to Dreamworks Animation than Pixar. And by “Dreamworks Animation,” I do not mean the level of “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Shrek,” or “Mr. Peabody & Sherman.” Think closer to “Over the Hedge” and “Megamind.” It is that generic.

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