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The Mitchells vs. The Machines follows one dysfunctional suburban family battling the robopocalypse.SPAI / Courtesy of Netflix

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  • The Mitchells vs. The Machines
  • Written and directed by Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe
  • Starring the voices of Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph and Abbi Jacobson
  • Classification PG; 113 minutes

Critic’s Pick

I’m not a religious man, but living in Toronto circa 2021 can do strange things to a person. So: thank the almighty or whom/whatever for The Mitchells vs. The Machines.

The advance media screener for the new film from super-star animation mega-producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) arrived in my digital queue in the thick of Ontario’s rainy April break last week and proved to be an absolute lifesaver for a family stuck indoors. I have a feeling that your clan will feel similarly appreciative when the movie premieres on Netflix April 30 – because, really, isn’t every week April break from now until ?????

Like other Lord/Miller joints, The Mitchells vs. The Machines is designed to entertain on a two-track system: Goofy and colourful and ridiculous and sweet enough for the under-12 set to enjoy, but also smart and witty and self-aware and emotionally complex enough to keep the adults in the room engaged and not infrequently enthralled. All that, and the Danny McBride super-fans out there (very guilty) can glimpse a rare side of the comic actor in which he doesn’t utter a single swear word.

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Through witty plot contrivances, the Mitchells come across the one thing that can stop Judgment Day.SPAI / Courtesy of Netflix

A PG-rated take on Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive, with a little Westworld and Social Network thrown in for good measure, The Mitchells vs. The Machines follows one dysfunctional suburban family battling the robopocalypse. There is technophobe patriarch Rick (McBride), meek mom/Instagram addict Linda (Maya Rudolph), dinosaur-obsessed grade-schooler Aaron (Michael Rianda) and budding filmmaker Katie (Abbi Jacobson).

The action starts just as Katie is set to flee her overbearing parents for film school, which also happens to be the very moment that an Apple-like tech giant accidentally unleashes an army of sentient robots bent on eradicating humanity. The world’s only hope? That’d be the Mitchells, who thanks to a series of witty contrivances happen to come across the one thing (“the goober,” as Into the Spider-Verse’s Peter B. Parker might say) that will stop Judgment Day in its tracks.

Lord and Miller may not have directed or written the film – real credit goes to feature-film rookies Jeff Rowe and Rianda – but the pair’s snappy fingerprints are all over the elevated, beautifully animated kids’ fare.

The characters, including the film’s ultimate villain, are layered, worth-the-investment creations, with the script delivering each a heart-tugging moment that feels genuine rather than reverse-engineered for emotional box-checking. (Although there is one late-film flick at Katie’s sexuality that feels both well-intentioned and disappointingly half-hearted.)

The jokes arrive fast and plentifully, knowing just what will tickle both younger viewers and adults. I’m still chuckling over the Mitchells’ adventures in an abandoned suburban mall (shades of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), which culminates in a battle with a giant Furby whose subtitled death rattle is one of this year’s great one-liners.

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The usually foul-mouthed Danny McBride is a great fit as Mitchell patriarch Rick, left.SPAI / Courtesy of Netflix

And the voice cast is perfectly on-point. The usually filthy McBride (Eastbound & Down, Pineapple Express) proves to be a surprisingly wonderful fit in the family-friendly arena thanks to his aw-shucks-faux-gruffy-ness, while Rudolph continues her well-earned death-grip on subverting the suburban-mom archetype (see The Lego Movie 2, Big Hero 6, Big Mouth, etc.).

But with the good of Lord and Miller also comes the bad. Like the pair’s other cartoon ventures, The Mitchells vs. The Machines features a climax stretched out 10 minutes too long. It all comes from a good place; Rowe and Rianda clearly love their characters – so much so that they have an unreasonably difficult time saying goodbye to them.

Meanwhile, my six-year-old son has already demanded a rewatch (“It’s so funny it’s embarrassing”), and I predict another two or three dozen viewings of The Mitchells vs. The Machines in my near future. For now, I’m perfectly fine with obliging such requests.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines is available to stream on Netflix starting April 30

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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