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Screen shot of a family being attacked by robots while driving a car in the animated kids movie "The Mitchells vs. the Machines."

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Emily Clark

Movie Review

The Mitchells have never been what you might consider “normal.”

Rick has been known to try domesticating possums, hates technology and always carries a No. 3 Robertson head non-slip screwdriver. Linda makes cupcakes with her kids’ faces on them and stalks her “perfect” neighbors, the Poseys, on social media. Little brother Aaron is obsessed with dinosaurs (and likes to call random people listed in the phone book to ask if they’d like to talk about them).

And big sister Katie? Well, she’s never really fit in with her classmates or her family.

Katie enjoys making funny short films and posting them on YouTube. And while her mom and brother indulge her in this endeavor, Rick is worried that his daughter’s passion will leave her broken-hearted if she isn’t able to make it as a filmmaker in the real world.

Of course, this tension only makes Katie want to get out of the house to start college even more.

In a last-ditch effort to reconnect with his daughter, Rick decides to cancel Katie’s flight to California (where she’ll be attending film school) and opts for a cross-country family road trip to get her there instead.

Sure, it’ll take longer, but it’s not the end of the world. Right?

Wrong.

While the Mitchells slowly make their way across state lines, a tech magnate in Silicon Valley inadvertently starts the machine apocalypse when he creates a series of robots too smart for him to control.

The Mitchells might be a group of weirdos. But as it turns out, their inability to think or act like “normal” humans confuses the robots, making these people impossible to catch.

Now, they’re the best hope humanity’s got.

Positive Elements

The entire Mitchell family learns that what makes them “weird” is also what makes them so unique and lovable. And Katie realizes that as alienated as she felt even within her own family, she doesn’t have to go find “her people” because her family is her people.

Because of Rick’s willingness to change his ways to save his family, two robots choose to override their programming and help the Mitchells. Mark, the man who created the robots, admits his mistakes and apologizes for stealing people’s data that led to the machines taking over.

The film offers many a savvy aside on the dangers of techno-dependence, a message near and dear to Plugged In’s heart. It should be noted, though, that the real enemy here isn’t technology itself, but our slavish trust of technology. And that’s an important distinction.

Spiritual Elements

A woman refers to serendipity as a deity. Someone jokingly says, “Pray for me.” As the robot uprising begins (and, more critically, the WiFi goes down), a shirtless man proclaims, “We must make a sacrifice to the router!” Katie’s films sometimes contain little spiritual elements to them. We see a whimsical depiction of heaven, for instance.

Sexual Content

Family members run across a yard in the nude, covering themselves with pieces of garbage.

In a post-credits scene, we learn that Katie is dating another female student. (Her mother, Linda, asks if they’re “official” and if she’s going to be there for Thanksgiving.)

Violent Content

Humans fight against the machines, resulting in lots of smashing and crashing. Linda also destroys several robots, and we see oil splatter across her face like blood.

While the robots aren’t planning to kill anyone, their master plan is to send humans to space to live out the rest of their days in isolation. That being said, Katie is purposely dropped from a high tower (which would have killed her) but is saved by her dad. Later, she appears to be dead, but it is revealed she is OK.

Rick gets attacked by possums multiple times, and we hear the Mitchell family got rabies from one of them. We see a mule drowning in a river but later learn it was unharmed. Someone jokes about eating a dog.

Robots treat Mark like a phone, poking him, throwing him into a toilet and evening kicking him in the groin. Humans fight against each other when the machines turn off the WiFi.

During an argument, Rick grabs Katie’s computer and accidentally throws it against a wall, breaking it.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear a single misuse of God’s name. Someone exclaims, “What the—” without completing the sentence. We hear a few insults and profane substitutes, such as “jerk,” “idiot,” “gosh,” “heck” and “dang it.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

None.

Other Negative Elements

PAL, the AI that Mark created (and embodied as a smartphone), feels abandoned by him after Mark creates robots to replace her. She states that everyone is better off on their own with no attachments to hold them back. When Katie tries to argue that relationships are difficult but worth it, PAL refuses to listen, believing that humans don’t really care about each other.

After PAL turns off the WiFi around the world, humanity descend into chaos. People’s obsession with screens and being perpetually online conditions many of them to fall into traps set by the robots.

Rick performs an illegal car maneuver to avoid traffic, stating, “It’s not illegal if you’re good at it.” (He later receives a ticket.) Someone jokes about looting. Several spiders crawl out of a car’s tailpipe. A robot asks what death is, and Linda pointedly avoids answering.

Someone jokes about a dog licking itself, and a man is grossed out when the same dog licks his mouth multiple times. Rick tells Aaron to use a water bottle as a toilet. Several people vomit after getting food poisoning, and a dog frequently upchucks as well. (Katie uses it as a repetitive gag in one of her movies.).

Playing off the joke about how terrifying the old Furby toys are, we see several come to life and attack humans.

Conclusion

The Mitchells vs. the Machines reminds us all that no matter how dysfunctional or uncoordinated your family is, you shouldn’t be ashamed of them. Weirdness is something to be celebrated. And sometimes, being a little bit different is actually a strength, not a weakness.

Rick and Katie don’t always see eye-to-eye. But by learning how to see things from each other’s perspectives, they’re able to reconcile their differences and save not only each other, but the whole world. (And it’s also really sweet to see, eventually, such a strong father-daughter relationship.)

There’s certainly a message here about the dangers of screen time and even a nod to the ethics of taking people’s data without their knowledge or permission. That said, those are lessons aimed more at the adults viewing this movie with their children than the kiddos themselves.

The film comes with occasional toilet humor. But perhaps the biggest caveat is a relatively small—but for many families, deal-killing—reference to Katie’s same-gender sexual preferences in a post-credits scene. Some families may not be paying close attention by then. But it’s there nonetheless for those that are.  

It’s a shame, because otherwise, the movie has so much going for it. The Mitchells vs. the Machines is fun, sweet and smart. It strays just a bit—but for some, that’ll be enough to steer clear.

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.