By Lynn Venhaus
Zippy and clever, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is a cross between a fun family adventure with the Griswolds and a fast-paced sci-fi thriller in the mold of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”
With Phil Lord and Christopher Miller the producers, Oscar winners for the innovative “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and creators of “The LEGO Movie,” you expect good humor, creative animation and funny people voicing the characters, and they raise the bar once again. Writer-director Mike Rianda delivers a work that is not only entertaining but surprisingly warm-hearted.
An ordinary family finds themselves challenged to save the world from a robot apocalypse. Creative daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson) has been accepted into the film school of her dreams, so her nature-loving dad (Danny McBride) insists on a family road trip to get her there. Upbeat Mom (Maya Rudolph) and quirky younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) are along for the ride when the machine uprising begins – oh, and their squishy pug Monchi too. They connect with two simple-minded robots to save humanity, combating smart phones, roombas, evil Furbys and renegade appliances.
Families can recognize themselves in the characters, which Rianda and co-writer Jeff Rowe have lovingly crafted, while its cautionary tale about unchecked technology, over-reliance on social media and losing connections with those you love the most is a valid one.
The contrast between the Mitchells – throwbacks to ‘60s and ‘70s sitcoms, complete with beat-up station wagon and roly-poly dog – with the high-tech modern world is well-drawn and thought-provoking.
The colorful animation is, of course, next level, in its action sequences and visual effects. Its vibrancy and sight gags are worth a second viewing. An Easter egg for St. Louisans, the Arch is one of the landmark attractions seen across the U.S.
The voice actors ideally suit their characters, with the well-meaning but dorky dad voiced by Danny McBride an excellent foil for exasperated Katie, ready to try her wings at college, played by comic actress-writer Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” fame and a veteran of Upright Citizens Brigade. SNL’s Beck Bennett, Fred Armisen and Conan O’Brien are funny as tech voices, with the biggest surprise Oscar winner Olivia Colman as the mad mastermind PAL. The actress, best known as Queen Elizabeth in “The Crown,” is a terrific villain.
The charming and delightful “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is a welcome vehicle to gather the whole family to watch – and all too rare these days for such a broad shared experience.
“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is an action comedy animated feature, directed by Mike Rianda. Voice actors are Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Mike Rianda, Eric Andre, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Conan O’Brien and Charlie Yi.
The film is 1 hour, 53 minutes and is rated PG for action and some language. Streaming on Netflix beginning April 30.
Lynn’s Take: A
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.