In March 2020, Sony Animation released a trailer for Connected, a film centered on a family attempting to survive a robot apocalypse. It mostly focused on the relationship between the luddite dad and techno daughter before shifting gears to revealing the rise of the machines, all while “High Hopes” by Panic! At the Disco plays. It looked cute and silly, the kind of romp that makes for solid family viewing. Then it was picked up by Netflix and scheduled for an April 2021 release. Back when the news of the sale was released, it seemed like the film might be a dud that Sony was trying to save themselves from. Instead, to my great shock and delight, the film, now retitled The Mitchells vs. The Machines, is far deeper than that first trailer implied. It’s not merely a father-daughter story against an apocalyptic event, but an opportunity for the weirdos to get seen, their value recognized, and maybe, just maybe, feel a little hope in their quest to find their people. Like Eric and Deborahbot 5000, this film (one I’ve unashamedly championed since my initial review) is freed from its digital restraints, given a physical form which can be enjoyed beyond the confines of Netflix as it given a physical and digital release with some truly delightful (and on-brand) bonus features.
If you’re interested in learning about the film without spoilers, I recommend heading over to the initial release review. Moving forward, the film will be discussed without concern of sharing details.
Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) has often felt like an outcast. Though she gets along with her younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) and mother Linda (Maya Rudolph), she feels like her father Rick (Danny McBride) doesn’t even try to understand her. He doesn’t embrace her passion for filmmaking and constantly expresses his concern that she’ll grow discouraged at film school and they’ll be helpless to help her when she’s out in California. In a last ditch effort to bridge the divide between them before she leaves for college, Rick cancels her plane ticket, opting instead for a family trip cross-country. At first, Katie feels thwarted as she’s missing out on Freshmen orientation, but grows to have a good time on their adventure to California. Turns out to be a good thing that they’re together because, unbeknownst to them and the rest of the world, there’s a malevolent plan being put into action by the very technological advancements everyone has come to rely on and the Mitchells are just the misfit, rag-tag group to take them on.
In other words, LET THE DARK HARVEST BEGIN!!!
First, allow me a moment to say thank you to whomever made the decision to put this film out on physical media. I don’t know if it was part of the deal when Sony made the sale or if it’s because they’re pushing the film for awards, but, whatever the reason, I’m at a loss for words with excitement over it (clearly metaphorically, as I’m about to gush). At first, my love for the film began with the presentation of Katie, how they showed her as a someone who delighted in film, making and watching them, yet struggled to find her people. I myself love film, even wrote/directed/edited some in college (good luck finding them ::evil laugh::), and struggled to find my people. I have folks that I call close friends, many of whom enjoy film, too, but not in the way Katie does. Hell, as written, she’s way more knowledgeable than I was at “her age.” Via the character introduction, the script, and Jacobson’s performance, I could feel my old pain come rushing in. Then something else happened: Aaron came on screen. Rianda talks about how he pulled from his personal experience as director/co-writer of the film (Rick is modeled after his father, Linda his mother) and how Katie and Aaron are like him. It’s not this aspect that made Mitchells impactful, it’s that Aaron is like my son. See, Mitchells released in April 2021 and around that time we learned that my eldest deals with three disorders, one of which is Sensory Processing Disorder and another being ADHD. This makes him hyperfocused on specific things, while also seeking out objects and experiences that give him sensory input his body craves. Aaron loves dinosaurs to the point where he knows all about them and will call up strangers through the telephone book to ask if they’ll talk to him about them. He’s not phased when they say no and moves on. In many ways, what’s on-screen via Aaron is what we see within our son. Impressively, each member of the Mitchells family also has a specific type of fixation or skill, suggesting that all of them, not just Aaron, is neurodivergent in some way. And they are the heroes of the story: imperfect, fallible, and sometimes struggling with dealing with emotional regulation. I wrote about how the animation style blew me away in the initial review and, nine watches later (my most watched of 2021), the visuals remain impressive in their intricacy. It is, however, the family that keeps me coming back, time and again, and how it shows my son being a hero. So why the thank you at the start? Because with a physical release, my son can watch Mitchells with or without Internet whenever he wants. We can all use small joys and this is one I am firmly behind.
Since that’s why you’re here, let’s talk physical release.
According to the press release, the bonus features are split between physical release and digital release, with the physical getting the bulk of the items. Exclusive to Blu-ray is “Dog Cop 7: The Final Chapter,” a mini-movie set during the holidays after the events of Mitchells; a filmmaker’s commentary track; eight deleted/extended scenes; and “Katie’s Extended Cinematic Bonanza Cut!” of the film, which includes over 40 minutes of unused/deleted scenes. The thing is, when I checked out the digital edition via iTunes, the Blu-ray exclusive materials were present. In contrast, Movies Anywhere, which facilitates the sharing of editions across digital platforms, has zero bonus features of any kind. This implies that access to bonus materials will depend on how you access the digital copy.
Are these exclusive materials worth the concern? Depends on how you feel about more Mitchells. “Dog Cop 7” is adorable, especially because it features more of the characters in Katie’s life, including Jade (Sasheer Zamata), who she met at school. I’m saddened to report that Monchi (Doug the Pug) does not appear as Dog Cop, but there is a plush toy in his place. The “Bonanza Cut!” merely switches out footage in the final cut for the deleted material. Most of it is in an animatic form with scratch voices (initial voice recordings to see how scenes worked before the main actors recorded their lines), with a few fully-rendered pieces occasionally used, as well, with each one announced with an auditory and visual cue as it begins and ends. For instance, the opening sequence includes a faux-history lesson of the rise of the machines into the introduction of the family, which offers a totally different tone and energy than the final cut opening. Similarly, when it’s revealed that PAL (Olivia Coleman) is the “person” behind the machine uprising, there’s a fully-rendered alternate scene that’s more vicious than the final cut. All-in-all, whether in the “Bonanza Cut!” or by themselves, the deleted/extended scenes reveal a film that’s often more aggressive and juvenile with its humor, offering a completely different tone from the final cut.
As for the materials touted as being included on all the editions (Blu-ray, DVD, and digital), these are a mixed-bag of awesome and fun. I describe them as mixed because the two “How To” videos are charming in their capturing of the silly atmosphere, but aren’t exactly proper demos. The first is about sock puppets and it makes sense not to provide step-by-step instructions as many of the steps can be inferred fairly easily, especially as Rianda reminds us that making sock puppets should be based on your own inspiration. The second is for making Katie Face Cupcakes and there’s no real instruction. Perhaps because EoM Editor Crystal Davidson is also a baker and I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to learn about what she does, the lack of explanation of what type of icing to use to put in the pipping bags (also, how to fill and prep the pipping bags), among other things, just struck me as less instructional than it could be. The other two bonus features — “Katie’s Cabinet of Forgotten Wonders” and “The Mitchells Vs. The Machines: Or How a Group of Passionate Weirdos Made a Big Animated Movie” — are where fans of the film will get their delicious fill of behind the scenes stories. These go into how they, as a team, embraced imperfection to create a realistic animated world, something which goes a long way when compared with more fine-tuned animation audiences are used to (see: Encanto and Luca versus BELLE, all 2021 films) in order to create a more immersive and imaginary environment. One particularly fascinating bit to learn was that because so many of the leads on this film were first-timers in their respective roles, they had a sort of “leave it on the field” mentality, and it shows in every aspect of the film. While many home releases feature bonus features that reveal behind-the-scenes tidbits, which this release is no different, what’s delightful is the infectious energy that comes from any of the writers, animators, and other crew members who share their stories.
All in all, the home release of Mitchells is really everything a fan of the film could want. Speaking for myself, if it had just been a film and no bonus features, I would be grateful merely for the ability to own it for myself and to be able to share it with my son. But Rianda and company did us one better, going all out so that it’s got a little something fun for fans of all ages. So, if you’re like me and have welcomed the Mitchells into your home more than once since April, don’t miss out on this release. It’s yum good! Yum yum good!
The Mitchells vs. The Machines Special Features:
- Katie’s Extended Cinematic Bonanza Cut! Prepare to witness Katie’s director’s cut, an extended version of the original film with over 40 minutes of deleted scenes. (1:52:48)
- Dog Cop 7: The Final Chapter: Katie Mitchell is back and creating the most hilarious film of her young career – check out an all-new mini-movie, Dog Cop 7: The Final Chapter. In a world where the holidays are being haunted by the Candy Cane Kidnapper, there is only one Dog with the skills to solve the case. (8:25)
- Filmmakers’ commentary (1:54:01)
- 8 Bonus Scenes: Get more Mitchells with over 20 minutes of Deleted & Extended Scenes. (25:18)
- Katie’s Cabinet of Forgotten Wonders: Take a rare look inside Katie Mitchell’s filmmaking process as she gives you an exclusive look into how the movie was made. (11:25)
- Dumb Robots Trailer
- The Original “Mitchells” Story Pitch
- The Furby Scene – How? Why?
- PAL’s World
- The Mitchells Vs. The Machines: Or How a Group of Passionate Weirdos Made a Big Animated Movie: Go inside the story of The Mitchells vs the Machines and meet a group of first-time filmmakers & talented cast who banded together to take a collective risk on making a unique, original, and totally off-the-wall film about an everyday, epic, world-saving family! (12:50)
- How to … (3:50)
- How To Make Sock Puppets: Katie Mitchell opens the door to her film school. Learn how to make sock puppets who could be extras in your next short film!
- How To Make Katie Face Cupcakes: Enjoy making cupcakes only a mother could love.
Available for streaming on Netflix April 30th, 2021.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital December 14th, 2021.