How Netflix has sold The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the currently reigning champions of animated storytelling outside the Pixar banner, The Mitchells vs. the Machines has a great premise. In the story, Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) is an oddball teen that frequently clashes with the family she’s never quite fit in with. When she’s accepted into film school her dad Rick (Danny McBride) and mom (Maya Rudolph) insist on driving her to college. What starts out as your average awkward family road trip gets intense quickly when the family finds itself in the middle of the robot uprising, with every machine both large and small coming to life and looking to destroy humanity.
The movie, which has an impressive 97% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, is out this week on Netflix, more than a year after it was originally scheduled to be released from Sony, which sold this past January. Netflix’s marketing has played up the fun, colorful aspects of the story while also reminding people how much they liked previous Lord & Miller productions, especially Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
Just one poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), which was released at the end of March. It’s a bright and zany poster, showing the Mitchells driving through what is clearly a robot apocalypse of some kind, with lots of little machines chasing after them. Lord & Miller’s previous productions are named at the top, but it’s the little drawings that come in from the edges of the poster that really make this charming and interesting.
It’s telling that the opening sales pitch made in last March’s first trailer (6.8 million views on YouTube) from Sony is that the movie comes from the filmmakers behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the studio obviously wanting to draft off that movie’s popularity. Once the story kicks in we see Rick is having a hard time as his daughter Katie is about to leave for college. He’s frustrated by everyone’s obsession with screens and technology, and cancels her flight to school so they can spend more time together on a road trip. Rick’s technophobia proves prescient when a new robot released to the public immediately turns evil, so it’s up to the family to stop the takeover and save the world.
A slightly different message is conveyed in the second trailer (25 million views on YouTube), released in late March after Netflix announced a new release date. After setting up the robot apocalypse setting, Katie introduces us to her family and explains they’ve never all been on the same page for one reason or another. But when the end of the world is nigh they come together in ways they haven’t before to save humanity.
Online and Social
Netflix inherited Twitter and other social profiles from Sony when it acquired the movie and has kept them going over the last few months while also giving it substantial support – which seems to have grown in proportion to the positivity of early reviews – on its brand channels.
Advertising, Press and Publicity
A video presentation involving Rianda, Lord and Miller was announced for the virtual version of the annual Annecy International Animation Festival in 2019. It was there that the filmmakers revealed some of the first details of the movie, still titled Connected at that time.
During the virtual Annecy festival, Rianda was interviewed about the making of the film and working with the Lord/Miller team. He also mentioned how the technical tools used by that pair in making Into The Spider-Verse were utilized on this film.
Stills were shared via Entertainment Weekly along with comments from director Mike Rianda in early 2020 about the origins of the story and characters.
The movie was part of the virtual Light Box Expo in September of last year. It was around that event that Sony launched a website for Pal Labs, the company that creates many of the machines that go haywire in the story. Later on there was a faux commercial for the Pal Max, one of those devices.
The movie, like many others, was moved off of the release schedule in September. Originally slated for mid-October, Sony gave it a vague “early 2021” date at that point. In January Netflix announced it had acquired the film, now renamed from Connected back to what had actually been its original name.
Rianda and Head of Story Guillermo Martinez were in attendance at New York International Children’s Film Festival in March, where they participated in a Q&A while offering a first look at footage from the movie.
A final release date was revealed toward the end of March.
Netflix promoted the BTS song that’s heard in the trailer, though it isn’t in the film itself.
Rianda and others, including co-director Jeff Rowe were interviewed about the making of the movie, the origins of the characters and more.
A handful of activity sheets were created that people could download and enjoy while anticipating the movie’s eventual release.
Rudolph appeared on “Today” to discuss her role in the movie.
In a pretty cool move, Netflix took over a Santa Monica gas station just prior to release and turned it into a PAL location with lots of movie branding and photo opportunities.
It’s also worth mentioning that internet-famous dog Doug The Pug became an integral part of the publicity campaign by virtue of his being chosen to “voice” Monchi, the Mitchells’ family dog. Doug gave the movie lots of shout outs and mentions on his social media profiles, tapping into that audience to get them excited for the film.
I think Monchi says it best.