Quite simply, one of the many reasons The Mitchells vs. the Machines works so well is because it doesn’t bother to “look” real. It knows it’s an animated film and plays it up. This isn’t just seen in the backgrounds or character designs, but it’s in the very energy of the film. Instead of scenes playing out like you might see in live-action, Mitchells makes heavy use of on screen text, graphics, and even two-dimensional animation.
At first, all of this style seems contained within the films made by lead character Katie, who’s getting prepped to leave for film school in LA. Her wacky and zany films (one called “Dog Cop” is a particular highlight) make use of various kinds of animation and help to set -p her personality.
However, as the film goes, it throws in as much off-the-wall animation as it can. When Katie’s father, Rick, decides to drive her across the country to college along with the rest of the family, clouds form over Katie’s head but they’re made to look like a marker drawing. And when the robotic apocalypse begins, and the titular titular machines attack, Katie comes up with a plan to save humanity. The inside of her notebook not only keeps the marker look of the cloud from earlier, but we also see 2D animation of her family as Mad Max style warriors. The film even uses live-action mixed with the 3D animation.
The way the film mixes so many styles and aesthetics is a breath of fresh air. You can feel the team behind it having so much fun just tossing in whatever style would make a certain scene work. The main bulk of the movie is 3D, but it has enough other kinds of animation to really make it something unique.
The film also delights in color. Whereas many films these days (both animation and live-action) emphasize desaturated colors, Mitchells vs. the Machines is filled with a bright spectrum that explodes off the screen. It makes the world much more open and inviting, rather than depressingly cold.
Everything from the Mitchell’s house to the Machines’ lair is a feast for the eyes. Anytime I had to pause the movie, it became a gorgeous, often funny, painting. This is the sort of film animation buffs will be studying frame by frame for years. Both for how color is used to convey the plot and emotions and to find all the little subtle jokes strewn about.