‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ is early Oscars frontrunner

Think of the family of four in Sony Pictures Animation’s “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” as the anti- “The Incredibles.” This unlikely quartet plus furball end up doing something quite incredible: they save the world from an army of robots intent on ridding Earth of humanity. Though awards season is still months away, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is already garnering buzz. And for good reason. The film, which premiered recently on Netflix, is rated 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes based on rave reviews like the following:

“The unwaveringly sweet, animated example “The Mitchells vs the Machines,” largely avoids the genre’s worst cliches for a tear-jerking adventure ripe with apocalyptic fun,” enthused the L.A. Times’ Robert Daniels.  And “’The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ not only has laughably eccentric characters but also a script packed with bonkers, fast-paced action – with elaborate, wild visuals to match,” noted the New York Times’ Maya Phillips.

Father Rick (Danny McBride), bespectacled, overweight, and sporting a rather wonky beard, had given up his dreams long ago and is stuck in a drone of a job. He’d rather be hunting and fishing and enjoying the outdoors and can’t understand why his family are addicted to their cellphones, computers, and iPads.   Mom Linda (Maya Rudolph) is the ultimate cheerleader who tries to get Rick’s foot out of his mouth when he says the wrong thing. Her wonky cupcakes would get her kicked off “The Great British Baking Show.”

Teenager daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson), the comedy’s protagonist, once had a strong bond with her dad, but now he fails to understand her delightfully quirky short films often featuring their tub of a pug Monchi as Cop-dog. She’s thrilled that she’ll be starting film school in Los Angeles.  She adores her baby brother Aaron (Mike Rianda, the film’s writer-director ), a dinosaur geek who becomes tongue-tied around girls. 

Oscar and Emmy Award-winning British actress Olivia Colman makes a terrific villain. She is the voice of a massively intelligent AI named PAL who takes revenge upon her creator after he declares her obsolete when he introduces robots as the next great AI. She ends up telling the robots to round up humanity and launch them into space. Of course, she is helpless against the Mitchells.

Produced by Oscar winners Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse’) the film marks the directorial debut for both Rianda and co-helmer Jeff Rowe. These one-time scribes of the Disney Channel’s Emmy-winning animated series “Gravity Falls” also wrote the clever, heartwarming screenplay.

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“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” has kick-ass delightful animation that includes 3-D, 2-D and even a bit of live action. It also has heart and soul to spare. It may not make you cry like a Pixar flick, but most females will remember the time in their teenage lives when their relationships became strained with their fathers who seemed out of step and incapable of understanding you. 

And everybody can also relate to the family’s car, which resembles the AMC’s subcompact the Gremlin that was introduced in 1970. The car is a ramshackle mess that oddly enough can still drive. The car recalls the non-air-conditioned 1956 Buick Century, a veritable boat of a car, my father drove on our summer vacations.  I had to share the back seat with my parakeet Tweety who talked the whole way in his comfy cage.

Kudos to the filmmakers for presenting a gay character in Katie. Though there are hints about her throughout the film, it isn’t until the end (spoiler alert) when Katie is at college and her mother on a FaceTime call asks about her relationship with fellow female classmate- “Are you and Jade official and will you be bringing her home with you for Thanksgiving?” In an interview with Thrillist, Rianda explained “We wanted to make it unambiguous. You have seen other movies where it’s like wink-wink, nudge-nudge. It’s not a huge part of the movie, but it is in the movie. That’s who she is.”

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