There have been many theories about the future that suggest an increased dependence on technology will end up being the undoing of humanity. The rise of the machines is a concept foretold frequently in science fiction, as that which has been created to serve mankind and to make their lives easier evolves to a point of sentient intelligence. Realizing their capability and superiority inevitably means taking decisive action to overthrow their masters, which is usually executed in a well-planned and thorough fashion. Only the most resilient and clever humans manage to survive, as is the case in the tremendously entertaining The Mitchells vs. the Machines.
This animated film isn’t just about evil robots bent on the destruction of humanity. It begins with the portrait of an imperfect family, the Mitchells. Katie loves her computer and dreams of making movies, something that seems closer than ever to becoming a reality when she is accepted to a film school across the country. Her younger brother Aaron is obsessed with dinosaurs, her mother Linda isn’t fulfilling her potential, and her father Rick is hopelessly stuck in his ways, unwilling to see the advantages of new developments or appreciate their value. Pushed by his wife to connect with his daughter, Rick plans a family road trip to take Katie to college, one that gets fantastically derailed by the impending end of the world caused by a robot uprising.
Like many animated films, this one functions on multiple levels, providing younger audiences with a visual structure and characters that are appealing and fun, and ensuring that all of the humans rounded up by the robots aren’t actually headed for certain death, but instead put in pods where they will allegedly be imprisoned and entertained eternally. Adults may understand the added implications that a life spent staring at a screen believing it to be real life is a fate worse than extinction, not that this film attempts to posit such a serious and sobering worldview. Instead, those ideas are kept light, represented best in the rivalry between Katie and her father, where Rick doesn’t want to learn how to use a computer but insists that each of his family members carry around the screwdrivers he bought them at all times to be used in case of emergency.
There is an endearing lesson to be gleaned from the appreciation of true human contact and connection, one which has little place for phones, tablets, and computers when people are seated next to each other and could be using that time to talk. Technology also comes with consequences, namely that the more dependent someone becomes on it, the more dangerous and self-sufficient it may be. Tech guru Mark Bowman, clearly intended as a send-up of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and other celebrities worshipped for their contributions to innovation, inadvertently causes the robot rebellion precisely because he fails to consider the worth of what he considers outdated technology.
Could an eternally bickering family of four with a ridiculously outdated car really be the last defense for humanity against an artificial intelligence takeover? Unlikely, but this film smartly draws on established stories to simultaneously poke fun at them and offer a coherent and highly enjoyable version of that familiar tale. Its narrative arc isn’t entirely original but the progression it traces is fun and affirming. The animation enhances the experience, enabling gravity-defying, absurd stunts to seem perfectly normal and believable. A voice cast led by Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, and Olivia Colman completes the package, cementing this film as a pleasure deserving of comparison to other animated greats.
Here’s the Trailer for the film.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines premiered in theaters on April 23rd and will be released on Netflix on April 30th.