'The Mitchells vs. The Machines' and Their Refreshing Take on Family

Being advertised as a quirky family friendly movie, my expectations for The Mitchells vs. The Machines were not as high as they should have been. Time and time again we’ve been sold countless children’s movies with the same overarching plot that surrounds a father and daughter having issues. The formula goes as followed: father and daughter are on bad terms because the daughter wants to be free and explore, while the father prefers safety and family unity. There is a common case of miscommunication that leads to misinterpretation and polarization. Then, some over-the-top world changing problem happens that forces the family to unite, bond, and mend their family dynamic.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines uses the same scenario for the main protagonist Katie Mitchell, who is forced to go on a road trip with her family before she begins her first year at film school. During their expedition, a robot uprising takes place, and it’s up to the family to stop it. The reason the road trip even happens is because Rick Mitchell wants to make happy memories with Katie, his daughter. These two characters have a shaky and distant relationship, as they both want to connect with each other but don’t know how.

Usually, in this trope, the father-daughter duo’s tension is portrayed as unfiltered yelling and angry discourse. Neither of them actually listen to each other, but rather vomit their emotions to get their point across. In the Mitchell's case, their tension is subtle. They do not yell nor confront each other, but instead they lie and change the topic when things get difficult. The tension within Rick and Katie’s relationship isn’t loud; it is uncomfortable and suffocating.

When watching the film, you can tell they care about each other. There is a lot of unspoken remorse for how their relationship turned out, which makes scenes in which they reveal closeness and expressive affection that much more meaningful. What made this portrayal even more impactful is when scenes of confrontation would happen. There were multiple times where I shifted uncomfortably as an audience member because of how big and ever-present the serious tension in the room was. However, these moments were usually interrupted by either the mother or brother changing the topic into something more positive, which distracted them from the real problem.

Another enjoyable aspect of the film is the fact that neither party is visibly portrayed as the bad guy. Katie is overall a very likeable and understanding character. She isn’t a brat that actively enjoys rebelling against her dad, but rather someone who feels unsupported by him thus creating an emotional distance. Same thing goes for Rick. He’s just a nature lover who doesn’t quite get his daughter’s interests and worries about her future. He’s not too overprotective or overbearing, unlike many fathers in this trope. Neither character is trying to hold the other down, but this gets interpreted due to miscommunication.

So when how they truly felt about each other was revealed, it was really satisfying. Katie learned that her father’s worry for her future wasn’t because he didn't believe in her, it was from his own experience. Meanwhile, Rick realized he should've given Katie’s films a chance and supported his daughter sooner. This conclusion felt realistic and natural. Usually in kids’ films that illustrate this father-daughter trope, there is a lot of expressed anger that then dissipates once the issue is resolved. It goes from a hundred to zero almost too quickly. While the tension is gone, there are still awkward moments between Katie and Rick as the two navigate how to reconcile their relationship and move forward as a stronger unit. This relationship dynamic is portrayed in a very fun and endearing way.

Of course, I acknowledge that not every family relationship is like this, but it's nice to see a change from this super overdone family trope. Although the movie is over-the-top by nature, I’m really glad to see that the aspect of father-daughter dynamic was not. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it is definitely a refreshing one. If you like quirky family adventures and the colorful animation of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, then I recommend you give The Mitchells vs. The Machines a chance.