Netflix has been releasing some great family content lately. Not long ago, we enjoyed Yes Day, during which my husband waxed poetic about how much he loves saying “no.” In contrast, The Mitchells vs the Machines had him growing very sentimental about how fast our girl will grow up. The animated feature also made us laugh a lot.
The Mitchells vs the Machines takes a pretty typical family story—Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is headed off to film school and her dad, Rick (Danny McBride), worried that she’ll get hurt, does not fully support her dreams—and throws in a robot apocalypse. Together, Katie, Rick, Linda (Maya Rudolph) and Aaron (Mike Rianda) have to try to save humanity from a Siri-like software that is determined to capture all human life and shoot it into space in retribution for her creator, Mark (Eric Andre), making her obsolete.
This kids’ movie really is the best of both worlds. It has a fun storyline that both kids and their parents can enjoy while also including jokes that are not inappropriate but are more likely to really land with adults—for example, Linda’s jealousy of the perfect Posey family or the bald criticism of big tech companies. The best joke, hands down, however, is that the robots malfunction because they cannot determine if the family dog is a dog, a pig, or a loaf of bread. The movie gets a lot of mileage out of that one and it is funny every time.
In addition to telling a fun story, The Mitchells vs the Machines is respectful of the feelings of both Katie and Rick in a way that develops meaningful themes around risk-taking, sacrificial love, and creativity. The writers do not reduce either character to being right or wrong, instead showing how their conflict makes Linda and Aaron unhappy, too, creating space for both father and daughter to grow authentically. Pretty nuanced for a movie about fighting robots with an ugly dog! This movie is as cute and hilarious as it is moving. I definitely recommend it, whether you have kids to watch with or not.
The Mitchells vs the Machines was written and directed by Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe. It runs 1 hour 53 minutes and is rated PG.
Also on Netflix, Things Heard & Seen starts out like a typical haunted house movie and then takes a sharp turn toward plotlines both tawdry and dull. In the story, art history professor George Claire (James Norton) moves his wife, Catherine (Amanda Seyfried), and their young daughter to a remote Hudson Valley town for his new job. The old farmhouse they buy is such a steal, they really should be suspicious, but the real estate agent assures them that it’s just a hard time for farmers. Spoiler alert: that’s a lie. Things are tense in the marriage and not long after the family moves, Catherine starts to have strange experiences. Is it a manifestation of Catherine’s anger with George or is something more sinister afoot?
If you want a good haunted house movie with great atmosphere or something really scary a la the Conjuring franchise, Netflix has plenty of options for you. This movie is not what you’re looking for. The story hooks you in with the promise of scares, but really it is closer to The Talented Mr. Ripley than it is to The Haunting of Hill House. The bulk of the drama centers not on Catherine’s suspicions about the house but about George’s duplicity. That story could have been fun if it hadn’t been so cliched. It’s just very boring and obvious what’s going on. I will give the movie credit for taking a twist that I thought it would pull back from, but when the haunted house story circles back in the end, it is unpardonably corny. Amanda Seyfried is acting her heart out, but the screenplay is so bad, it is hard to enjoy this movie.
Things Heard & Seen was written by Shari Springer Berman, who directed with Robert Pulcini. It runs 2 hours 1 minute and is rated TV-MA.
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