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Mitchells vs the Machines, The

Entry updated 12 July 2021. Tagged: Film.

US animated film (2021). Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, Lord Miller Productions, One Cool Films. Directed by Mike Rianda. Written by Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe. Voice cast includes Eric André, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Olivia Colman, Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Mike Rianda and Maya Rudolph. 113 minutes. Colour.

Having always felt an outsider in her Michigan hometown, Katie Mitchell (Jacobson) is delighted to learn she has been accepted by the California College of Film: she quickly becomes friends online with other new students, relieved to interact with people who get her: "After all these years I'm finally going to meet my people." However, her father Rick (McBride), worried that recent conflicts with his daughter might mean they become permanently estranged, cancels her flight and announces the journey to the college will be in the form of a family road trip, in the hope that they can re-bond. Her mother Linda (Rudolph), her Dinosaur-obsessed younger brother Aaron (Rianda) and the family dog, Monchi, accompany them.

Meanwhile, the CEO and founder of PAL Labs, Mark Bowman (André), announces that PAL (Colman) – the AI virtual assistant mobile phone – has been superseded by the lab's new product, the PAL Max personal Robot. However, PAL does not take enforced redundancy well, hijacking control of the PAL Maxes to kidnap all humans and prepares to send them into space. The Mitchells escape capture and adopt two damaged robots, Eric (Bennett) and Deborahbot 5000 (Armisen), who tell them there is a robot kill code that can be downloaded at the PAL Labs HQ in Silicon Valley. The kill code plan fails, but PAL is destroyed by being dropped into a glass of water, deactivating all the robots save Eric and Deborahbot. So all ends happily, with important lessons having been learnt by Katie and, particularly, Rick.

Rick, a nature lover and technophobe, has his flaws spelt out by a PAL Labs Computer: he "can't accept that his daughter is her own unique person and not simply a reflection of himself" and is "more interested in Quail migration than his children's interior lives". Because his behaviour early on is pretty bad – uncomprehending selfishness disguised as good intentions – the film's treatment of him as nonetheless endearing and implying that Katie should meet him partway seems unjust (though fathers may disagree). Linda is the media stereotype of the wife that has no interests outside her family (unlike Rick, Katie and Aaron), who are largely passive unless you threaten their children – her behaviour at the end might be a Parody of this trope. Though the high-tech robots' inability to overcome the Mitchells is a little implausible, their plot-relevant confusion over whether Monchi is a dog, a pig or a loaf of bread is entirely understandable.

If the viewer can get over the hump of the parents' characterization they will find this is a well animated, entertaining and funny film, with Katie a likeable lead – and it is pleasing that her being a lesbian is accepted by her family and not a cause of conflict. The film's message, despite the plot, is not technophobic. Rianda and Rowe had previously worked on Gravity Falls (2012-2016). [SP]


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