Isn’t it creepy how your kids always babble about memes? My own kids have been ranting about the Mitchells movie for months, using the “M” word in every second sentence. It was written by the same guys as Gravity Falls. And Alex Hirsch gave his voice to it, too, and he is the grandfather of all good memes, isn’t he, being the creator of Gravity Falls. Just in case you have no idea what the heck Gravity Falls is: that’s the greatest meme ever. Well, frankly it is. Although, as I was kindly informed, I could not get half of the memes. Memes are not for mums anyways. Gravity Falls is a great show nevertheless, even if a bit “cringe” (where “cringe” is the furthest I am ready to venture into the realm of the weird hybrid lingo used by my kids. They are native Hungarian speakers, by the way. Only it doesn’t always show.) Anyhow, whenever I give memes a try, they find it… cringe. So when they insisted we should watch The Mitchells vs. The Machines together, it was really…cringe.
The Mitchell family is struggling with similar problems. Mother Nature’s son Daddy (Danny McBride) has a pathological aversion to electronic gadgets and the internet in general but can fix a nuclear reactor with a safety pin. Mum (Maya Rudolph) has become one with her profession and treats her own family with the same forced cheerfulness as her first-graders at school. Little Aaron (Mike Rianda) is the nerd type who will know the cosine of the bone plates on the back of a Stegosaurus by heart (and will tell you about it, whether you want it or not), but has instant nervous breakdowns whenever having a close encounter of the third kind with someone from the opposite sex. Katie, the teen daughter (Abbie Jacobson) dreams about a career in the movie industry and spends all her time making YouTube videos and hunting for likes. At least her dreams seem to come true: she gets accepted to a reputed film school. All she needs to do now is flying to California. However, Dad breaks her laptop (almost accidentally) on her last night at home and wants to make up for it no matter what. His great idea is to cancel Katie’s flight ticket and organize a family road trip to get her to her school. The family car will be quite probably slower than a plane. Katie will quite probably miss the grand opening party. But at least they will be all together, sad-mistake-of-evolution family pup included, tie the bonds that bind, and so on. It would be the perfect plot for the world’s very first animated movie on family annihilation, but luckily the apocalypse is just around the corner to save the Mitchells: their own difficult relationships will be the least of their concerns when they have to save the world from an evil mobile phone (Olivia Colman) and her robot army armed to the teeth. (Yes. It is a mobile phone of the female persuasion). Oh yes, and they also have to kill some Furbies. I am so glad to know I am not the only one the Furbies make tic.
“Road trip to adulthood” is such an old meme that it had already been boring well before the word meme was invented. “A friend (or family member) in need is a friend indeed” is even older and doesn’t even get me started on the „rebellious teen vs conservative parents – ain’t it brilliant they can both contribute to World Peace” stereotype. I cannot count the movies where the “dysfunctional family” gets merrily reunited by the end of some trip and at least half of these films specifically target Wayward Young Audiences, to friendly correct their Errant Thinking. Off the top of my head: The Croods, Rio 2, Ice Age 4, and so on, all along the lines of “beware, your stupid relatives are in fact cool”.
The thing I most appreciated in this movie is that it is NOT about an annoyingly dysfunctional family of complete idiots you usually see in mass produced family reunion movies fabricated of artificial sweeteners. I bet such families would never reunite, not even when family-tripping to the frontline between zombies and tentacled monsters from dimension X, simply because they do not care for each other. The Mitchells on the other hand, while being weird and suffering from all kinds of generational problems, strive to make each other happy. It doesn’t work, true. No matter how eager they are to please, most of their intentions end up forming massive blocks in the pavement of that certain road. They are fallible, all of them, without exception. I have never seen another kiddie movie where the social media dependence of middle-aged parents with all the related jealousy and bickering is ridiculed exactly to the same extent as the gadget addiction of their teen kids.
The story of the Mitchells mocks all the generations and sneers at all their respective life choices and principles, without ever truly offending any of them. It is a major achievement requiring an unusual amount of empathy. Making others happy is a tricky quest and takes a lot out of us. Love does not conquer all. The Mitchells vs The Machines is a pleasantly flamboyant hue in the depressing pink of commercial movies, perfectly demonstrating the familiar situation, when you stand there among your loved ones, brimming with love yourself, and yet the choir of chubby putti totally fails to land on your shoulders to chime the song of family harmony.
Obviously, it is not a perfect movie. Sometimes we are spoon-fed morals and sometimes we are shown chapters from the Adventures of Captain Obvious. I very much missed the explanation of why Dad had to give up his dreams. Yet, the film has its heart in the right place.
This movie targets the generation growing up on vlogs, dreaming about YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok careers, never 100% present, always lost in dozens of parallel virtual dimensions. It has reverse Scott Pilgrim visuals, with the animation being interrupted with all kinds of live clips. Unlike your average family movie, this one does not fail to pay tribute to the immense persistence and talent it takes for those „lazy teen bums” to create a 5-minute YouTube clip and celebrates unconventional creativity. It is vibrant, raucous, LOL, ROFL, and the rest of it picks up a million subjects just to drop them 20 seconds later, balancing on the threshold of lunacy and often tripping over. As such, it is a rare gem not smelling with the sweat of elderly drones (yes, I mean those who use LOL and ROLF in the wrong context) trying to ride the money train and exploit the childhood memories of those who actually did have a childhood. It is as funny and chaotic as any other Phil Lord-Christopher Miller zany animated extravaganza such as The Lego Movie or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. And yes, it is indeed full of bloody memes, both ancient (2-3-year-old) and brand new ones. It may be tedious for adults to watch all 109 minutes of it on one go, but it will be worth it, I promise. Your kids will be sooooo proud of you.
This movie is a good example of how to make the “family” concept palatable without causing nausea in the first 5 minutes. Impossible as it may seem, it is able to combine conservative values with absolute acceptance. I could not help loving it. I wonder how it will be received in Hungary.