Every time I see a post-apocalyptic movie or show, I always wonder what would happen to me and my family if the unthinkable were to happen. Well, to be fair, I know exactly what would occur: we would all die. We have no survival skills — no useful skills whatsoever — and well, our house is all windows. It’s the worst zombie apocalypse house ever.
I have a recurring nightmare of us running away from a zombie horde and debating which parent should sacrifice themselves in order to get our four kids to safety. I’m definitely slower and weaker than my husband so if I stayed behind to hold off the zombies, my husband could carry several of our tiny humans and run faster, thus increasing their odds of escaping. However, my husband also lacks common sense. So, yes, they would survive that battle but then die accidentally from stupidity.
It’s a quandary.
This is what I appreciate about Netflix’s “The Mitchells vs. The Machines.” While it’s not a zombie apocalypse — it’s a robot one — the titular Mitchells are my kind of protagonists. They love each other and bumble along the way I imagine most families do. The way mine certainly does.
I mean, finally, a relatable every-family with zero useful skills stuck in an extraordinarily stressful situation and accidentally on purpose saving the world. No one is secretly hiding super powers or well-connected to people in power. In fact, everyone’s a little weird, a little bit off-kilter, a little bit of an outsider.
But before I continue, let me start at the beginning.
“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is a quirky, clever crowd pleaser
“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is an animated action-comedy following an ordinary family in the wake of a robot takeover akin to Skynet — just not murderous (or at least, the murders happen offscreen). Brought to you by the same team behind Academy Award-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “The LEGO Movie,” if you liked the humor in both — you’ll definitely love “The Mitchells vs. The Machines.” I was howling at some of the random asides. HOWLING.
Here’s the basic plot: creative outsider Katie Mitchell gets accepted to film school and is ecstatic that she’s finally going to be amongst “her people.” Her nature-loving father keeps asking about a Plan B and spoils their last night together as a family before her flight out to California — and then surprises her by canceling her flight, subbing in a cross-country road trip for a last shot at family bonding.
And then, the robot apocalypse occurs when an Apple-like company’s smartphones upgrade to personal robots — and these same robots use the press conference to take over the world. Then, they fly around, capturing and corralling every human on the planet into giant hexagonal cells for nefarious purposes.
Panic and mayhem ensue.
The best parts of “The Mitchells vs. The Machines”
The best thing about the movie is its absurd sense of humor. Everything screams good-natured caprice as it gently roasts pop culture and society. From the Mitchells’ pug Monchi; the affable, bumbling robots; the zany vim of the animation and media styles; the knowing wink to influencers (I felt both understood and attacked); and the absolutely hysterical mall scene featuring Furbys (you’ll know it when you see it); the hits just keep coming.
For the most part, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is a clever commentary on how technology has overtaken actual relationships, how family love can both buoy and sink your sense of self-worth, and how your weirdness is also your strength. (That last one — it reminded me of 2019’s “Spies in Disguise.”)
What would have made “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” perfect
A few aspects of “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” fell flat for me. In general, I get that movies aimed at children have “a very special message” about love or whatever. Unfortunately, the movie is incredibly heavy-handed — a little too on the nose — when they want you to pay attention to the “very important message” Katie and her father are supposed to learn.
I felt as if I were being preached to — by a particularly savvy evangelist, yes — but it still felt slightly condescending.
There were multiple moments when either the pace slowed down enough (or the plot too ludicrous to comprehend) where my willingness to suspend disbelief snagged on poorly envisioned logistics. Like, come on! Do better, my dudes!
And, as much as I appreciated some of the diverse characters, it really chafes that in 2021, the audience stand-in for an “ordinary” family is still so, so white. Is it really that beyond the pale (pun intended) to imagine a family of color as the audience avatar? This is particularly disappointing because a quick look of the credits reveals so many people of color in the cast and crew. Were that it was more accurately reflected in the actual optics of the movie.
Finally, though I do love how Katie’s queerness is treated as almost a throwaway observation — that the movie did not focus on her LGBTQIA+ identity except in a sort of coded manner — I’m really sick of movies tacking on queerness as a sly gotcha at the end.
Being queer is not subversive or a plot twist.
The movie creators could have easily woven Katie’s sexual identity throughout the movie — like they did with her younger brother — without it being ham-fisted. Instead, it’s blink and you’ll miss it — which, admittedly, can also be refreshing in its nonchalance. But I still contend that they could’ve been equally casual about Katie’s identity where the audience knows from the jump.
Overall, the movie is geared for all audiences, with parents and older children enjoying the subversive humor that the younger kids won’t quite catch until they’re older. “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is quality family entertainment and will be a favorite for years to come.
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