The kid in me is always excited when a new animated film comes out — I hope it’s something I never outgrow. Netflix has yet to underwhelm me when it comes to its children’s content. Every show and movie I have had to endure with my children (a lot of parenting is enduring the latest thing) has been very high quality. Their latest arrival, Next Gen, did not disappoint. In fact, my younger two have been asking to watch it daily since we watched it!
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Kevin R. Adams and Joe Ksander
Written By: Kevin R. Adams and Joe Ksander; Story by: Wang Nima
Mai (voiced by Charlyne Yi) is a lonely teenager dealing with bullies, a tech depended parent, and evil robots — just normal things any girl living in the future would deal with! When the latest and greatest Q-Bot (voiced by David Cross) rolls out, Mai reluctantly goes with her mother to pick their new unit up. Mai’s mother is much too distracted by the omnipresent technology around her to notice when Mai wanders away. Through sheer luck, Mai discovers a top secret robot who ends up following her home.
Mai and 7723 (voice by John Krasinski) go on a journey together to not only save their city, but each other.
The Three Laws of Robotics
A truly beautiful moment happened while watching this film with my children. There is a scene where the bullies of Mai’s school are on the soccer pitch together. Their robots — the Q-Bots — act on the main bullies word and proceed to beat up Mai. All three of my children were immediately horrified. “Would our robots hurt us when we are older?” they asked me. “No,” I told them simply.
Then like out of every English major’s wildest dream, I got to explain The Three Laws of Robotics to them. Isaac Asimov crafted the Three Laws while writing a collect of short stories; these are most easily seen through the film I, Robot starring Will Smith (awesome movie, honestly). The Three Laws are:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
While there is debate about how these rules would need an update for our modern times, there is something in them that holds true. They are still reassuring that with these in place, we would be safe. At least, strictly speaking in theory! In discussing The Three Laws, my children had their minds settled that any robots they may have in the future would keep them safe.
Ignore the Big Hero in the Room
What was really hard for me, the only adult in the room, was to ignore the fact that this movie reminds me of Big Hero 6. Admittedly, there are some definite similarities that are hard to overlook!
Both movies feature lonely children dealing with some kind of emotional trauma. Both feature big robots with hearts of gold. And both have some kind of villain that must be defeated. Even the animation is similar! Yet, this is where you will have to learn to look at Next Gen in a different lens.
For one, Mai is not necessarily as lovable as Hiro was. She is a deeply flawed character and we are never specifically told why — we are given small glimpses into what makes her tick, but that’s it. When Hiro has his dark moments, he has friends to pull him back. Mai does not seem to have this kind of closeness with anyone. Hiro learns a lesson very early about Baymax, but Mai seems slow on the uptake here.
Ultimately, my daughter said it best when she told me, “Next Gen was so cool but it made me feel so sad.” No one feels sad after watching Big Hero 6.
A Darker Message
I was not expecting for this movie to be anything more than a fluffy robot movie. Honestly, it is marketed at children. I should really know better than to judge a movie based on a gut reaction — I always end up being wrong.
A prevailing message throughout Next Gen is how absolute our dependence on technology is. We see how neglected Mai feels as her mother continuously chooses her tech over her daughter. This neglect definitely leads to a lot of Mai’s behavior throughout the movie. And without giving too much away, we are given a glimpse into what the tech thinks about humans.
Much like Asimov’s I, Robot collection (as well as other science fiction writers) points out, the dependence on technology will influence the human race in every aspect. From a television in every home, to personal computers, to smartphones in our pockets we are starting to resemble these types of movies more and more. Next Gen is a smack in the face reminder that our children and our children’s children will never know a world without omnipresent technology. It is a call to adults raising children to put down the screen and pay attention!
I was surprised how much I liked this movie. It features a strong, flawed female protagonist and this is very important for someone raising a daughter. So often, female characters for young girls seem to err on the side of caution and make them likable more than real. Young girls need more real life characters to look at, to talk about, and to have in their lives. Next Gen hit this on the nose in that regard.
The voice work of John Krasinski as 7723 was, honestly, perfect. I never once felt like it was weird that Jim From The Office was voicing a robot — to me it was a perfect casting. In fact, all of the voice work was perfect throughout the film. All of the characters were truly brought to life by the amazing cast and it made watching the film with my kids such fun.
This is definitely a movie any parent is going to want to put into the Family Movie Night rotation! Just be prepared to have some tissues nearby, because Next Gen is one wild ride.
Thank you for reading! What are you thoughts on the Netflix Original Next Gen? Comment down below!
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