Movie Music Talk: The Mitchells and the Machines Filmmakers

Version of this story: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”This was first seen in the special animation section. Awards Preview issue of ’s awards magazine.

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines,”The latest animated feature is from Sony Pictures Animation, and the producing team of Phil Lord & Chris Miller (all of whom worked on the Oscar-winning film). “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”The film runs on parallel tracks. On one, it’s a charming story about family togetherness with frustrated future filmmaker Katie (Abbi Jacobson) being driven across country by her overbearing father Rick (Danny McBride), alarmingly upbeat mother (Maya Rudolph) and her adoring little brother (Mike Rianda). On the other track: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”It is a cautionary tale about technology gone berserk. The robot apocalypse occurs just as Katie is being dropped off by the Mitchells.

Mike Rianda, director, and Jeff Rowe, co-director (who co-wrote the script), often mix emotion with action. They are never more connected than when Katie and Rick, her father, defeat a group of robots while singing to T.I. and Rihanna’s “Live Your Life,”A song they had performed years ago in a talent show. (Mercifully T.I. wrote the verses. (Mercifully, the verses by T.I. about hateful soldiers in Iraq have been deleted. It’s a moment of family bonding, wonderfully snuggled in next to some rousing ass-kicking.

It’s such a perfect moment that it seems likely to have been delivered, fully formed, from the minds of its creators. But it’s not. “It went through this really interesting evolution,” Rianda said. “Basically, we had this movie that was about these two characters coming together from different generations — the whole core of the movie was about their emotional connection. In the first drafts of the script, they just hugged, like at the end of a sitcom, and it was very unsatisfying. And Jeff and I would have these days where we’re all hyped up and freaking out, like, ‘Why isn’t the movie great yet?’”


Rowe remembered Garth Brooks’ roller-skating and made the breakthrough. “We were trying to figure out what success looked like to Rick,”Rowe stated. “What does he see in his head that makes him happy? And it’s doing something with his daughter again. We wanted to hang something visual and fun that spoke to that. And then somehow we conflated that with when I was 12 and I would go to the roller rink and request the song ‘The Thunder Rolls’ by Garth Brooks.”

Rowe and Rianda envisioned a moment in which the chorus of “The Thunder Rolls”blasting robots, and decided that the bonding scene should be a musical number. “We realized that having them come together over a song from their past could be really powerful,” Rianda said.

Use of “Live Your Life”(which samples) “Dragostea Din Tei” by O-Zone, a song that gained popularity thanks to an internet video) is so perfect, in fact, that it is shocking to hear that it wasn’t the filmmakers’ original choice. They wanted “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”Rianda spoke out about Whitney Houston’s music. “ticks all the nostalgic boxes,”But, that decision was rescinded as the suggestive lyrics were too strange to be sung by father and daughter.

“Ultimately, (head of story) Guillermo Martinez came up with this idea that it should be as powerful visually as it is sonically, and wouldn’t it be great if they were soaring on robots and looking at each other and laughing?” Rianda said. The four filmmakers asked Rianda to send 25 songs each to the editors. After that, they sorted through 100 songs to decide. “Live Your Life.” “I teared up on the mix stage hearing the way that was mixed into the music,”Rowe stated.

Find out more about the Awards Preview issue.

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Photo by Matt Sayles

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