The Mitchells vs. The Machines stands out as a remarkable animated tale that proves just how comfortable Sony’s rival studios at Pixar and Disney have been with their storytelling. It is not only that the film proves more inventive and fresh in its animated style, pushing the boundaries of the medium’s aesthetics, but it also goes out of its way to normalize its hero’s gay relationship. Whereas its competition for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars, Luca, skirts around ever confirming its hero’s sexuality, The Mitchells vs. The Machines throws in the character detail so simply, it’s a wonder Sony’s rivals have been so apprehensive all these years.

There is much in the bold originality of The Mitchells vs. The Machines to be commended, as the story includes a high-octane romp through the robot apocalypse that serves as a bonding experience for its lovable titular family. But what can really stand out about films with so much going on in them is the small details, and sometimes, the real magic to pulling those moments off is to treat them as exactly as ordinary as they should be. For this film, that moment comes when the main character, Katie Mitchell, drops a reference to her parents about her girlfriend. The senior Mitchells don’t treat it as a big deal, and the film does not make it seem like one, which allows the audience to bask in just how mundane the whole affair is.

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Unfortunately, that sort of attitude can not be found in films from major animated studios like Disney and Pixar. There is always a flurry of press surrounding most any inclusion of non-heteronormative relationships in productions the studios put out, only for the result to almost always include a side character or passing background detail that feels lackluster compared to the normalization a gay main character establishes. Though there have been an increasing number of gay relationships finding their way into animated features over the years, the studios’ hesitancy stands out in stark contrast in a year where one of The Mitchells vs. The Machines‘ main competitors for the Best Animated Feature Oscar is Luca.

Many comparisons have been drawn between Luca and the coming-of-age gay romance Call Me By Your Name, but the former holds back from confirming a romantic relationship between the boys at the film’s center. Part of what proves so disconcerting about such noncommittal portrayals of gay relationships is that they too often go ignored when confined to subtext or even outright edited out in conservative foreign markets where controversies over such inclusion can threaten box office performance. Sly details and subtext may have been a necessary stepping stone in years past, but nowadays, they stand out as a weak bid for positive press.

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It is not as though The Mitchells vs. The Machines settled merely for its brief shoutout to Katie’s gay relationship, either. Early promotional material hinted at the character’s status where she wore a rainbow pin, and the narration discussing her process of “figuring herself out” carried much the same queer coding that provided such important stepping stones in the past. When a crucial character moment includes Katie assuring her brother that he should never be embarrassed about the person he loves, it connects who she is as a person to how she interacts with her family.

And it all looks so effortless. The Mitchells vs. The Machines shows just how easily an animated feature can integrate such elements without either treating it with an otherworldly gravity or reducing it to shallow tokenism.  But the film stands out as the exception to the rule. And that might just be the nature of progress, but let’s hope the success of The Mitchells vs. The Machines can help prove to future creators and producers just how easy representation is.

KEEP READING: Across The Spider-Verse Will Take Miles To Unimaginable Places – Thanks To Mitchells Vs The Machines



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