Courtesy of Netflix Under Fair Use
Sony Animation Studios’ film, “Mitchells vs. The Machines” was released by Netflix on April 30, 2021.
It is a comedy adventure movie that incorporates many similar animation quirks and stylistic choices that were used in Sony Animation Studios’ previous animated film, “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse”. 2D-looking doodles and line art used in the animation as well as the 3D animation that makes the movie look as if it is a moving picture book. The animation alone makes this movie worth appreciating.
The emotional plotline of the movie– the story of a father and daughter who have drifted apart– is highly predictable, but predictable has never meant poorly done. The family dynamics are compelling and realistic, and the nuance created by how every member of the family’s personal comforts and goals clash is the reason this is so.
The protagonist, Katie Mitchell, has drifted away from her father, Richard Mitchell, because he is stuck in his ways and so used the way their relationship was when Katie was younger that he became close-minded to the way Katie expressed herself.
Katie is also close-minded in regards to her father’s self expression because Katie is, of course, still a teenager, meaning she’s absorbed in her feelings and her world. Thus she does not see that her father is still trying to connect with her and that he cares about her, she only thinks that he is harming her.
Katie also has limits on her relationship with her mother and little brother, although less severe, she takes them for-granted.
The conflict of the film happens when Richard cancels Katie’s plane tickets to the LA film school of her dreams– her escape from her father where she feels socially and emotionally stifled– in favor of a cross-country road trip to the school instead.
Once again, Richard tries to get close to Katie, and ends up hurting her instead, all because he misunderstands her feelings, just like how Katie interprets this sudden change in plans as an attack from her father, as well as from her mother and little brother, who also helped with the idea.
Katie’s mother, Linda wants to see her family whole again, and her little brother, Aaron wants to spend time with Katie. Both of these characters take a backseat to the father-daughter bickering, but are still very real elements in their conflict, because the rift between them not only hurts for the two of them to witness, not only makes them both fearful of their family’s security, but also because the conflict ends up putting the family in very real physical danger.
The machine apocalypse that defines the movie is a result of emotional conflict as well, but they are taken less seriously. The main antagonist, Pal, is an AI that commands thousands to millions of PALbots that scoped the planet, kidnapping every single human and loading them into many triangular spacecrafts that PAL has planned on shooting into outer space so that she and her technological brethren could rule over Earth.
Pal felt abandoned and betrayed by her creator, the pseudo-Steve Jobs, Mark Bowman of Pal Labs, and thus concluded that humanity was not worth saving. That and all of the environmental and humanitarian crises of course.
The movie runs in a typical Hero’s Journey format, with gags and slapstick to dot the events on screen. The comedy definitely is not for everyone, but it is definitely well-constructed, and it is apparent that the creators that made this movie had fun and put in effort.
The movie’s “Darkest Hour” delivers the emotional gut punches, and the climax delivers the emotional confrontations and conclusions each character needs.
However, the climax runs for a bit too long.
There are many different fight segments to fill out the scenes with fun action, with two different major checkpoints that Richard and Katie face individually in order to take down Pal.
Katie and Aaron try to take the Pal HQ by storm, and fail until Richard comes to help them by breaking out of his prison cell and hijacking the big screens to distract the Palbots, which is an endeavor that is drawn out for comedic effect.
In most movies, the time taken for this segment would be immediately followed by the leadup to the conclusion, but there are still other robots that Pal sends to attack the family. More time is spent in the climax to get Katie up to Pal herself, where she is is captured and tries to deliver a heartfelt speech to convince Pal that families, and humanity, are worth saving.
These two major events in the climax do not mesh together all that well, seeing how one is just a gag and Katie’s confrontation with Pal is much more relevant to the story and the emotional resolution. The contrast makes the climax seem clunky. Despite this, the movie is still overall well written, and this does not hinder the enjoyment of the viewing.
The movie holds substance and effort that highlights that children’s entertainment and media can be high quality. I hope that it continues to get this treatment, because as a young child, I fell in love with art from a young age because I was exposed to artists who cared and artists who tried. Love for art must not go without cultivation just because big entertainment companies find it easier to exploit people’s desires and tastes instead of trying or caring.
The effort put into this movie, such as the talent in the animation, the distinctness in the style, and the writing for the character arcs also gives me hope that animation will be fully recognized as a medium for artistic storytelling instead of being restricted to children’s media.