Review: Family fights robot revolution in 'The Mitchells vs. the Machines'

Fate of humankind is in the hands of a Michigan family in spirited Netflix comedy

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
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It's not just superheroes who can save the world. 

An everyday, ordinary family — one hailing from Kentwood, Michigan, in fact — steps up to rescue humanity from enslavement by evil robots in "The Mitchells vs. the Machines," a fun, clever, spirited animated comedy that celebrates the heroism of a mom, dad, daughter and son who are just trying to hold it together the best they can. The Mitchells don't have a single superpower between the four of them; consider them the anti-"Incredibles." 

Danny McBride and Abbi Jacobson voice characters in "The Mitchells vs. The Machines."

But they're a family, and that's enough when the fate of the universe is on the line. Of course, they have their own issues to get over first: Daughter Katie (voice of "Broad City's" Abbi Jacobson) is off to college and no longer thinks her dad Rick (Danny McBride) is the coolest guy in the universe, while dad is hanging on a little too tightly to Katie's childhood. Rather than letting her step on a plane and go off to film school in California on her own, he cancels her airline ticket and institutes a cross-country family road trip to drop her off at school. 

So with mom Linda (Maya Rudolph) and son Aaron (Michael Rianda) in tow, they head off for a hastily planned journey from Michigan to California. Rick is hoping for some family fun that doesn't involve heads buried in screens, everyone else just kind of wants it to be over. 

But then a robot insurrection is mounted at the Silicon Valley headquarters of PAL, an Apple/ Amazon-like tech giant, where humans are held captive while A.I. takes over. (The humans are placed in pods enabled with wi-fi, so they don't bother putting up much of fight.) By chance, the Mitchells are the only humans not captured by the robots, so it's on them to fight back and save humanity — but first they must come together as a family, and realize their superpower is in their bond with one another. 

Co-written and co-directed by Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe, "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" has bright visuals and an inventive animation style that occasionally looks like it was run through a layer of Snapchat filters. ("The Lego Movie's" Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are on board as producers, and the film carries their stamp of cool.) The characters and the setting are relatable, as is the time-honored Clark Griswold-like father who longs for family time and an American ideal that exists only in his head.   

The robot action is slick and the humor throughout is swift, with Oscar-winner Oliva Colman ("The Favourite") lending her voice to the Alexa-like voice of PAL and Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett voicing a pair of malfunctioning robots who team up with the Mitchells. This is a hip, vivid, radiant production with relevant themes about technology, togetherness and family. It's one the kids and parents can all enjoy collectively — preferably, without phones and other glowing screens interrupting the quality time. 

 'The Mitchells vs. the Machines'

GRADE: B+

Rated PG: for action and some language

Running time: 114 minutes

On Netflix

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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