By Bradley Lane
The film industry nationwide seems to be in a sort of in between state as films release both in theaters and on streaming services, sometime simultaneously. Certainly, here in central Indiana restrictions are being relaxed thanks to both the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccine and Marion County’s continued mask mandate. However, for the rest of the country things might not be as safe, so it is a welcome comfort of the pandemic that new films are still releasing exclusively on streaming, like Netflix’s excellent The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Helmed by first-time director Mike Rianda, the film is an energetic blast of passion, creativity and heart.
Rianda positions the film from the perspective of the Mitchell’s daughter Katie, who is about to leave for film school. This major transition comes at a time where Katie’s parents, Rick and Linda, are worried for her security and uninterested in her passion for film, causing Katie a type of disillusionment between family members that is so common when leaving home for the first time. To combat this growing space between the family Rick decides to cancel Katie’s plane ticket to school and take a family road trip to her school in Los Angeles. With her entire family onboard, including her dinosaur obsessed little brother, the Mitchells are forced to reconnect … or be captured by a robot army that takes control of humanity as they drive to LA.
The most immediately apparent aspect of the film is that the people involved in making it clearly were passionate about what they were putting onto the screen. The animation is lavish and covered with small details that give so much character to the look and feel of the film. What’s more is this film feels like a genuine and heartfelt ode to family trying and often failing at being the support you need.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines could have been a cheesy family moral tale about how parents are underappreciated and could have been just as entertaining, but the film is dissatisfied with a lack of nuance. It shows how family members of all relations strive to be there for each other and so often fail because of their own internal struggles and insular perspectives. It communicates the sacrifices necessary to truly connect with the ones we love, and that is a message children and adults desperately need to hear.
Not only is Mike Rianda’s directorial debut funny, gorgeously animated and wholly original, but it also leaves audiences with a sincere plea to be more patient, understanding and empathetic with the family they struggle to connect with. The Mitchells vs. The Machines is available to stream on Netflix. – 4.5/5 stars