The Mitchells vs The Machines had a lot of potential to live up to. It's a Lord & Miller animation, from the same team as both The Lego Movie and Spiderverse, the trailer had already shown off a distinctly unique animation style, and the reviews (and the hype) were glowing. Personally, I just didn't see anything that original, so I was a little worried.
Luckily, I think that mild scepticism paid off. TMvTM is no Spiderverse or even Lego Movie. The animation style is beautiful and cleverly marries a weird combination of 3D VFX, 2D sketch drawings, and what I can only describe as watercolour shaders that give the entire film a painterly touch. It's absolutely unique and completely riveting, but it also stood on its own toes from time to time – particularly the sketching. Elements are great and really add to the world being built, like the tiny velociraptors that sparked off Katie and Aaron's hands when they do their pseudo-fist bump. Others just felt a little jarring, like the freezeframe montages. Honestly, it felt like the film was trying a little too hard to be Scott Pilgrim, and the latter did it just a bit better. Still, top marks for yet another completely original animation style and visual language; even if it's outclassed by what came before it, it's still leagues ahead of most of the competition. Oh, and those kill bots with their phase-shifting movement... wow 😲
That slight imbalance is felt in the plot, too. At the core are messages about family, overreliance on technology, and growing up, all wrapped around a neat Terminator-style apocalypse. In other words, there's little new here. Even the central dynamic between Katie and her dad, or morals about quirkiness being okay, just feel a little played out. Yet, at the same time, the comedy is top-notch and the way the film uses those trope-filled situations and story beats is masterful. It's brilliantly paced, perfectly balanced storytelling. Plus, some of the creative moments are just perfect. The stealth toasters; the whole "Dog? Pig? Dog? Pig? Loaf of Bread!?! Error!" sequence; the mum going full maternal rage; the two "adopted" robots with their dry-erase faces; the "perfect" neighbours pre-prepared armageddon battle plan (and subsequent attempted rehash); and, of course, the Furbys 😂 I really though the Furbys would be a fun throwaway gimmick, but watching those tiny demonic monstrosities discuss the "Twilight of Man" or demand retribution, all in Furbese, was just incredibly funny.
Again, there are moments when the humour just sails past me. I think, like the sketches, it has flashes of the Ren & Stimpy idiocy and general American gross-out humour that I just don't get. But these moments are fleeting and utterly surrounded by laugh-out-loud zingers, poignant gut-wrenchers, and fist-pumping victories that keep you barrelling through. Have we seen Facebook-creates-the-singularity-and-kills-everyone before? Yes, but never quite like this. Don't miss out.