After Klaus by Sergio Pablos and Where is my body? by Jeremy Clapin, arrives on Netflix another great animation masterpiece. Often the adjective is used improperly but we assure you: this is not the case with The Mitchells vs. the Machines, feature film directed by Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe for Sony Pictures Animation and distributed by the streaming giant of Reed Hastings. Rianda himself stated that producing the film was like “direct ten animated films together“, and this is because of the desire for innovation inherent in the project and in the intentions of the author and Rowe, who in addition to wanting to develop “an anti-Incredibles“, given the emphasis on the human flaws and weaknesses of the protagonist family, they wanted to follow and even overcome the great imprint of renewal left by Spider-Man: A New Universe. Inspired then by his own family, Rianda conceived a story that through the disconnection from the ether he wants to reach the reconnection of feelings and interpersonal relationships.
Ultimately it does so by putting it at the center of the story a normal and perhaps somewhat amorphous family, that of the Mitchells, made up of the father Rick, the mother Linda, the eldest daughter Katie, the little Aaron and the adorable and chubby pug Monchi. When Rick decides to go on one last family trip to accompany teenager Katie to college against his will, fate has it that at the same time a robot apocalypse erupts caused by the work of an overly enthusiastic technological innovator, forcing the Mitchells to collaborate together after a long time and put aside thought to be incurable differences.
Entertainment at the highest level
Being a deeply personal film for Rianda because it was directly inspired by his family, in The Mitchells Against the Machines the author wanted the artists to have a big say in the matter. The idea behind Rianda’s so vivid, rich and colorful look came from looking at watercolor illustration by production designer Lindsey Olivares, combining his childhood fascinations, Saturday morning cartoons and a whole talk about technology with hand-painted textures on CGI, a work “engineering” truly superb that returns a unique and extraordinary glance.
Always Rianda stated that the the film’s visual effects supervisor, Michael Lasker, who had already contributed to A New Universe, at one point in pre-production confessed to him “that what they were trying to do was strangely more complex than Spider-Man“. At the end of the work and in action, this is actually evident: the lines are more rounded and organic than those of Bob Persichetti’s film, the lining links much more creased. It is something that while appearing simpler in terms of aesthetic impact it is much more complex to achieve, and this is because CGI has limits that need to be moved and readjusted to do so.
And in fact compared to the magnificent animated film about Marvel’s Climbing-Walls, described as “a cartoon in motion”, The Mitchells Against the Machines is an illustrated book in motion, a subtle but substantial conceptual difference. In this mix of styles and contaminations, moreover, 2D pop-ups often explode on the screen prodigious who give support and visual construct above all to the sensations and lucubrations of Katie, who is the protagonist among the protagonists.
It’s like a teenager drew the whole movie in his room, inserting meta-cultural quotes and animated nonsense here and there for fun, making everything more home made, fresh and pleasant. There is also a striking contrast between the dirtiest and dirtiest lines in the human world and the clean and calculated lines of robots, impressive in their accuracy. within a mix of styles and amazing technological tools fielded by Sony.
Again, the tools used in Spider-Man: A New Universe were preparatory to the realization of the Mitchells, which by going beyond the comic strips (easier to recreate on screen) they had to juxtaposition of pictorial watercolors on hand drawings and CGI, which is why it was necessary to develop a new tool that could adapt the watercolor textures to the chosen animation context. A curious paradox, because it was a difficult process of computer simplification; the idea was to eliminate many details (counter-intuitive work for a machine).
Even the play of light wants to imitate the real one as much as possible, a result obtained through further complications, because it was also necessary to properly arrange every element in the film so that it filtered in the right way, from trees to the smallest detail on the screen. In a technical sense, however, the film is an explosion of games, colors and inventions that takes innovation in the genre to the highest levels. resulting in a satisfying and excellent melting pot of styles and intuitions hardly comparable to anything else, practically perfect crasis between traditional animation and computer graphics, all mediated by the genius of the author.
A wood moose
However, the technique is not enough to sanction the masterpiece alone, because without content or emotion there can be no authorial climax. The merit of the Mitchells is therefore to be a title that brings mixed animation into the future, but also a profoundly sincere, moving and concrete film in its mix of irony and well-reasoned cynicism about contrast between so-called boomers and generation Z, ventricles of the same heart separated by a thin membrane of distrust that has thickened over time which does not allow the body to work properly.
We talk about direct communication and mutual understanding in a more “separate” and humanly disconnected world, where social networks and the web play a fundamental role in the personal relationships of the youngest, increasingly addicted to technology. The interesting thing is that in principle for Rianda and Rowe it is more of a cue to be included in the plot than of the basis of the same, because in truth behind the Mitchells there is a whole familiar universe in which different points of view are faced and many personalities collide.
Obviously the strongest and most polar opposites emerge, which in the specific case are that of his father Rick, a man all in one piece, whole, sweet and calmly upright, and that of Katie, an introverted girl without friends and passionate about cinema with the only desire to get away from home as much as possible to start a new life dedicated to her passions and surrounded by people capable of understanding her without ostracizing her. Indeed, this is how he thinks of his father: an obstacle in his path because “too tied to the old world”, unable to really understand something that due to limits of interest and age he is unable to conceive and appreciate, not even for the love of his daughter.
Yet as a child he was her greatest hero and she was her greatest miracle. What happened in between? Life, choices, generational conflicts?
It moves and thinks, the Mitchells against the Machines, and he does it in the simplest, most candid and honest way possible, without shortcuts or rhetorical amplifications but choosing a story of rediscovery and rapprochement, as we said of reconnecting with others, able to harmonize with anyone, big and small.
It is also very funny, to be honest, and this is thanks to some find subtle and ingenious well-tuned and integrated into the more reflective and dramatic side of the story. He works a lot on personal obsessions, for example, and this without saving anyone: for Rick it is handwork, for his wife it is the very ideal of family, for Katie it is cinema (his shorts on Cop-Dog are hilarious too. thanks to the very nice Mochie) and for Aaron they are the Dinosaurs. Passions as unique as their respective idiosyncrasies: technology, fear of detachment, understanding of others’ learning difficulties, normality. The Mitchells are a weird and confusing family that makes their own peculiarities and weaknesses their greatest strength, the attack one that will then serve to escape and perhaps stop the Robot apocalypse. It is no coincidence that the battle cry is “let’s get weird!” and that Katie’s most important advice to Aaron is “don’t let the world normalize us”.
The message is clear and pure: be proud of your character singularities but do not let them prevent you from seeing your neighbor, approaching him or simply understanding him. Rick’s biggest mission in the movie is just to go back to being Katie’s hero, “the sergeant ready to send him reinforcements in time of need”while Katie’s is just to accept them and understand that those reinforcements will always be there for you.
And although the Mitchells vs the Machines manage to develop this confrontation-confrontation-rapprochement in a superb way in just two hours in duration, in that technical context that we have already emblazoned in the previous paragraph, we believed everything was possible except the dazzling emotional intuition of being able to synthesize the heart of the story in a modest wooden moose which is home, hope, gift, future and love at the same time. Looking amazed, happy and filled with so many different emotions the film by Rianda and Rowe we can only be fully agree with Katie when he says that “some movies are always there for us”, because the Mitchells is one of them.