The Mitchells vs. The Machines
A family that stays together, saves humanity from an AI apocalypse together. That’s the premise of The Mitchells vs. The Machines, the new animated film that’s coming to Netflix on April 30, from the makers of the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and The LEGO Movie.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines is an action-comedy, road trip film about your regular family who’s suddenly thrust into their toughest family challenge yet — fighting off world domination by robots under the machinations of a Siri/Alexa kind of virtual assistant that turned psycho.
The story starts off with Katie Mitchell, a budding filmmaker and YouTuber who’s about to study at the art school of her dreams. It’s a decision that doesn’t sit well with her outdoors-loving but tech-ignorant father Rick. But he, nevertheless, insists on driving his college-bound daughter to school along with the rest of the family — the ever-upbeat mom Linda, the dinosaur-loving little brother Aaron and their squishy pug Monchi.
The forced family trip, however, takes a turn for the “worse” when the world suddenly faces a robot uprising. Smartphones, roombas and even toys are taken over to capture every breathing human on Earth. But the Mitchells are Mitchells, a family first and foremost who decides to unite, join forces with two malfunctioning robots and rise up to the challenge of rescuing humankind. As they say, a family that sticks together… is ready for whatever life brings.
Two different styles of animation were employed in The Mitchells vs. The Machines, according to its fun facts. One is a more illustrative, hand-painted approach, while the other embraces the realism seen in most of the computer-generated films today. Still, as stated in the production notes, director Mike Rianda — who co-wrote the film with Jeff Rowe — drew inspiration from real-life experiences for the film. He recalled that he was working as a writer and creative director for Disney’s critically-acclaimed, BAFTA-winning animated series, Gravity Falls, when Sony Pictures Animation reached out to him about directing an original film. “When I was initially contacted by Sony, I was writing an R-rated, 2D coming-of-age animated movie that the world didn’t ask for, but I was manically working on anyway,” he said.
“When I realized I had an opportunity to actually make an original animated movie, I couldn’t believe it… I had always dreamed about making an animated movie that was really personal and unique — and this was my shot! So, when I was coming up with ideas, I basically combined the thing I love the most in the world — my crazy family — and the thing I loved the most when I was a kid — killer robots.”
The story idea became clearer, thanks to an aha! moment during one fun day with his tech-savvy nieces and nephews where he began to see how technology could be a lens to see generational differences. The director said, “It was also exciting because in a world where technology can do what humans do — it makes you ask the question, ‘What does it mean to be human?’ That was when the idea really started taking shape.”
Rianda’s “wildly wonderful vision,” love for animation and the eccentricities of his family were also what made Abbi Jacobson, writer/director and star of the critically-acclaimed show Broad City, to join the project as the voice of Katie Mitchell.
Abbi, who along with other voice cast members recently did an interview for Southeast Asian press including The STAR, can very well identify with her character who’s looking for her tribe and yearning for her place in the whole wide world. “I definitely felt that. Yeah, and it took me a while. I think it comes in stages. I didn’t find them right away. Even in college, I kind of thought I did and I was like, maybe this is it. And then it took me after college to sort of really click in and feel like a part of something,” the actress said during the virtual interview.
“So, I really relate to Katie in that way, and I think in the meantime, while I was on that journey and still while I am on that journey, you really try and listen to the things that make you feel good and make you feel like you’re expressing yourself. So, for me, it was drawing and it was writing and those creative outlets. I think, whatever you’re into, lean into those things and try as much stuff that you’re drawn to as you can, and it’ll funnel itself out into other people that are into those things as well.”
As for two-time Emmy-winning actress Maya Rudolph, who lends her voice to the mom Linda, she could relate to her unwavering love for her family, and “the drive to make it the best it can possibly be and for everybody to just dig in, get along, nuzzle up and cuddle up.
“I think she is aware of how incredibly lucky she is, and I feel incredibly lucky to be a parent, to watch my kids grow, to honor them for who they are, to see them continue to shine and become their own completely unique selves. So, loving the quirkiness of your own family is something I can really relate to,” the comedienne added.
Meanwhile, Saturday Night Live actor-comedian Beck Bennett weighed in on how the film comes across like a commentary on how personal connections are built in the digital age.
Beck, who voices Eric/PAL Max Robots who become friends with The Mitchells, said, “I think it’s easier and harder. I’m seeing people’s lives all the time because of Instagram or whatever you’re on, TikTok, Twitter. You’re seeing what people are doing all the time and people are commenting on what you’re doing and putting out there. So, I think it is, in a way, easier to connect but then at the same time, I’m seeing a new generation communicating so much more than I do and having sort of a code of just a general way of behaviour that they just learned but I don’t know and haven’t adopted so it can be confusing, a little bit above for me.”
Based on her own experience, Maya couldn’t help but agree. “Sometimes, I’ll come home and find, just like in the movie, one of my kids buried in a screen. I say hi and they say, ‘Hi mama’ but they’re not looking at me and I feel like, oh that is blood curdling, that’s the thing you fear the most. And you try your hardest, you try to limit screen time and then you get a global pandemic and you have to do school online. So there’s that and you do the best you can.
“But just like anything, there are good elements connecting us but also taking away from that personal. One thing we’ve tried to get my kids to do is use a telephone to call their friends, which could limit screen time and it’s amazing how different the conversations are, it’s just a different way of communicating. And obviously, if we could all be in person the way that we’ve been, we recognize what kind of quality of life that is when you don’t have it and maybe some of the things we could do without. It’s a real push and pull,” she added.
“I want to say ‘necessary evil’ because I wouldn’t call it evil. It’s been incredible what it’s done. I’m sure, I probably bought more things than I should have online, you know… But yeah, I wish we could look at each other’s faces a lot more. There are many studies showing that the way children develop facial expressions and personality is through watching other faces. So, it would be nice if we were looking at human faces while we were doing it, I think. I’m not a scientist, I just want to be clear.”
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