‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ rescued by its themes
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The best family films try to offer more than just a way to keep the kids occupied for a couple of hours combined with some references that parents will get and laugh at. They tell stories that have relevant themes that enrich the story and expand the way viewers think, regardless of age.
“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” aims to be that kind of film and while it isn’t entirely successful, the themes save it from being just another kids’ movie.
“The Mitchells” finds Katie (Abbi Jacobson) readying to leave for college, where she’ll study to become a filmmaker. Unfortunately, her dad, Rick (Danny McBride), cancels her flight to California, intent on driving her across the country with the rest of the family to drop her off. This makes for an awkward situation since Katie and her dad have a strained relationship.
Things go from awkward to impossible when an A.I. named Pal (Olivia Coleman) sets off a robot uprising that threatens the whole human race. Soon, the Mitchells find themselves battling to save the world. Can they work together to rescue mankind? Can they even figure out how to get along?
There’s quite a bit about “The Mitchells” that makes it hard to love. The character design isn’t all that appealing and looks unfinished or intended for ads instead of a feature film. Much of the plot about the A.I. using robots to get rid of humans feels swiped from “The Terminator,” which just made me want to watch that movie instead.
The slapsticky situations and madcap action actually get tedious and hard to sit through. The “hand-drawn” effects added throughout the film are more distracting than anything. Also, the musical score was pretty bland and conventional.
But this movie offers a few things that make it worth sitting through. First off, while a lot of the slapstick gags didn’t work, there were some genuinely funny moments throughout the film. Coleman is quite good as Pal and I hope she does more voice work.
I also appreciated a protagonist who’s an aspiring filmmaker. Having been a weird kid who dreamed of making movies and went off to film school myself, that really hit home with me.
What really saves “Mitchells,” however, are its themes. It digs into the role technology plays in keeping people apart pretty effectively. It also lightly critiques greedy tech billionaires who are smart enough to create devices and apps that our society winds up depending on but aren’t quite smart enough to foresee the kind of costs their creation may extract. It’s a bit hypocritical considering this is coming in a movie made by the massive international conglomerate, Sony. But I still appreciated it.
Best of all, “Mitchells” examines difficult family relations and the strife that can damage a family when parents and kids don’t understand one another. Neither Katie nor Rick are the bad guys, but they end up hurting one another because they fail to see things from the other’s perspective. It’s a reminder for us to be gentle with one another, which is an especially good message for a movie to have after the past 15 months we’ve all had.
Overall, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is too derivative and lacking in the plot and visual departments to be a great movie. But it should keep your kids occupied for a bit and it tries to give the adults something to think about. That makes it worth screening on Family Night.
(“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is available to stream on Netflix.)
Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.