It’s a little over two years since Steven Spielberg made the call to have Netflix barred from competing at the Oscars, focused as they were on home viewing. Well, a lot has happened since then and it is the streaming giants that have just come out on top in the 2021 Academy Awards. This year Netflix actually got the most wins of any studio with seven gold statuettes going their way from an impressive thirty six nominations and second place went to Disney+ with five Oscars from fifteen nominations. Of course this is all due to the particular circumstances we have been living in these past thirteen months but the genie is most certainly out of the bottle (although here wishes are not granted so much as predicted by algorithms).
Of course, ranking ahead of Disney is not something you’d expect Netflix to achieve when to comes to animated films (Disney+ got two of its awards for Soul) but as Steven Spielberg may be able to attest, this company should not be underestimated. You could take Over the Moon as a sign of their desire to take over this world. I don’t know that he was poached per se but that film’s director Glen Keane is one of the Mouse House’s most experienced animation and story artists and sure enough the movie earned them good reviews and one of their recent nominations. Now they are debuting The Mitchell’s vs the Machines which is the latest animated film to be produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Lord and Miller have previously been involved in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and its sequel, The Lego Movies and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, all of which are exceptional in one way or another and the last of which is a genuine modern masterpiece (and a winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar). Even for the studio that made Scorsese’s last picture, Lord and Miller are another big catch.
As it turns out though The Mitchells vs the Machines is without a doubt the weakest of this duo’s animated output. Unlike those previous films they were not involved in directing or writing and it shows. I want to make it clear that this is a strong field and the animation in The Mitchells vs the Machines, with its mix of 3D and 2D, still pushes the envelope but I don’t think the name of the movie will be inside any come next March.
It is just too derivative, mostly of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 but also of every robots take over the Earth film ever. All of Lord and Miller’s animated movies have been clever and this one isn’t particularly. The story is totally predictable and heavy handed and every time it seems that they’ve got a good idea, like with one scene involving a load of Furbys, they take it too far too quickly, overloading it and squashing it flat.
There is also a whole story thread about the oldest child in the Mitchell family going to college that makes things confusing in terms of who this is all aimed at. Maybe teens, maybe parents but not kids and you need to hit that demographic above all of them (although maybe not if you are going for an Oscar if Soul is any indication). It is as though they saw Toy Story 3 and thought they could do the same thing but the leaving part was what was important there, not the college thing. They’ve fallen in the same trap as Monsters University in thinking that college is fun for those that are still years from going.
I didn’t think the voice work was that great either. Maya Rudolph was good but the kids sounded too much like adults and the Dad sounded too much like Danny McBride, which doesn’t bother me normally but did for some reason here. Olivia Colman seems to have built her whole character around the idea of phoning it in. (Sorry Olivia, you are amazing and that might have been a cheap shot but it’s how I feel.)
The biggest problem though is that the film is just way way too sentimental. There is an admirable message about the importance of family but oh my god do they lay it on strong.
I wish all involved every success with this film, I am sure it will get a billion views even if I doubt it will quite reach the heights Netflix are hoping for. It isn’t terrible and it is still an improvement on a lot of mainstream kid pleasing media but I didn’t think it delivered all that it promised. My favourite bit was what they did with the Columbia logo at the beginning which isn’t a great start despite literally being a great start. In my opinion The Mitchell vs the Machines only produced a medium win.
The Ripley Factor:
The women in this film are great, they are brave and resourceful and they are inspirational. They are convincingly strong enough to save the world but they are not enough to save the film.