Last month I had the chance to sit down (over Zoom) with Mike Rianda, who made his feature directorial debut with Sony Pictures Animation’s (SPA) latest The Mitchells vs The Machines. The interview was for INBTWN Animation, a Cartoon Brew partner who I’ve been working with!
The film went through quite a lot before landing on Netflix, even briefly having the (IMO) super stale corporate-feeling name Connected. I remember openly commiserating with colleagues about the less fun and punchy name, remembering the times it happened to us at Blue Sky (i.e. The Leafmen becoming Epic (perhaps the worst one), and other studio misfires like Pixar’s The Bear and the Bow becoming Brave).
I am so happy to see this film sitting squarely in the Netflix Top 10 list since it premiered there on April 30th. It is clearly such a love letter to nerds and misfits, and I hope Rianda, co-director Jeff Rowe (the two also co-wrote the script), Lord and Miller, and the whole SPA team are proud of this film. It’s a much needed exploration of the grey zone of our current technological landscape, and quite timely, coming at a unique moment in history where it was so needed to keep us all, well, connected (damn you, Sony corporate!).
I love getting to talk process with people, and Rianda didn’t disappoint. The look of the film obviously stands out so much, and as SPA’s follow-up film to Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse it was fantastic to learn about building off of that tech, as well as SPA really seeming to continue to put trust in its creators. It was also cool to hear from someone who came from tv animation (Rianda wrote and directed on Gravity Falls), as that crossover doesn’t seem as common as one would think.
Please be sure to watch the film before watching/listening to the interview. While there aren’t really major, specific spoilers, we talk very openly about the whole film in a way that you would feel spoiled:
A Mini Review But Not Really:
I hecking loved this film. It felt so nice to see a weird, imperfect family on screen that had nothing unique to offer. That sounds harsh, but I mean that sincerely. As much as I want to believe my family would manage things a bit better than the Mitchells, I am pretty sure we are right smack in the average zone with them. Obviously I identified quite a bit with Katie and her wonderful creativity and envied her access to the technology and resources she had as an 18-year old in 2021 compared to me in 2008. If the whole film was about her making movies with her scene-stealing brother Aaron, road tripping with her family, and dealing with film school, I’d have watched the crap out of that. I’d 100% subscribe to her film YouTube channel as well as her second channel with behind the scenes and vlogs.
Honestly, my only real gripe with the film was that, aside from a few funny zingers, they let the techbro CEO who caused the robot uprising off a little too easily, both in how he was presented throughout the film and at the end. I do also acknowledge that this film also isn’t really the place to explore the topic of tech companies (and the individuals who work there)s’ accountability, and that 31-year-old Jen is viewing this through a bit of an unfair lens in complaining that it barely addressed social media regulations and its engineered addictiveness. Rianda mentions in the interview that he wanted this film to have a clear line of humans vs machines, and he did that and did it well. I think it isn’t that simple, but I can’t blame him as a director for needing to keep the scope in a place he could work within. Again, I think this film does a great job already of exploring the nuance of our dependence on technology in a fun, non-preachy, and accessible way; I’m not expecting it to tackle every issue here, so that criticism doesn’t take away my enjoyment of the film.
This is one of those films that has such a high re-watchability ratio for me. There is always something new to appreciate or pick up on for the first time, or a hilarious expression to really hone in on. Especially the more you dive into the technology of how this film was achieved. There’s already a lot of great insights available online to learn more about it. There’s this interview with production designer Lindsey Olivares, as well as all of the amazing coverage Ian Failes has done at Befores & Afters.
Netflix has also put out some great behind the scenes videos as well: