I grew up on cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Johnny Quest and Woody Woodpecker, etc, which typically consisted less of thematic/moral lessons than various degrees of chaos.
Davey and Goliath – which is animation, just with clay – and The Peanuts were notorious for looking at things from a thematic perspective though the thing is they didn’t constantly state whatever their goal happened to be (more so for the latter than the former because Davey and Goliath was essentially Christian programming).
The Mitchells vs The Machines does this way too often. The heart of the story revolves around the conflict between Rick Mitchell (Danny McBride) and his daughter, Katie (Abbi Jacobson) who he can’t seem to connect with.
And this is fine as far as reasons for things to happen go though what isn’t is the way the movie leans on it like a crutch.
Which is a pity because there’re plenty of other interesting characters, such as Linda Mitchell (Maya Rudolph) and their son, Aaron (Michael Rianda, who’s also a co-director of the movie) who are around to mainly to deal with the situation between Katie and Rick more so than existing as characters in their own right (Aaron is really funny as the dinosaur-obsessed little brother and I would like to have seen more of him).
In an attempt to bond with Katie, Rick comes up with a plan to take her cross country to college, which just happens to happen at the same time as a robot uprising, led by PAL (Olivia Coleman), essentially a really hostile Siri with a name that likely isn’t coincidentally similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s HAL 9000.
And speaking of Siri, it’s really interesting how, visually speaking, the machines come from a company was clearly modeled on Steve Jobs-era Apple though the commentary on such things isn’t particularly deep and I would have liked the movie to explore that angle a lot more than it did (though it might have run the risk of distracting from the main plot).
The Mitchells vs the Machines works best when you can see it’s influences, which are fairly obvious. Savage Steve Holland’s Better Off Dead (1985) is a huge one though Kill Bill (2003), Tron (1982) – and if the music at certain points is any indicator – Tron Legacy (2010).
The contemplative, thematic stuff it doesn’t do quite as well (if you have to mention it more than once, you’re not doing something right) though it’s certainly fun to watch.