Who was the first adorable robot? Astro Boy? Regardless of where it started, the idea of a harmless and cute robot that either questions or learns the nature of humanity has been a strong family movie theme for years. Whether it’s Number 5 from Short Circuit or Baymax from Big Hero 6, who doesn’t love an adorable robot?
Netflix has recently jumped on the bandwagon and come up with its own family movie starring a cute robot: Next Gen, and while the story itself is quite cute, I’m not sure it’s the type of movie that I’d raise my kids on.
The film follows angry teen protagonist Mai (Charleyne Yi), victim of a broken home and schoolyard bullies who has developed an extreme hatred of robots. While at a convention with her mother, she wanders off and accidently discovers a top-secret robot (Jason Krasinski) that then follows her home. When she discovers the weapons it’s packing, she decides to team up with the robot and execute a little revenge, but while the two go on a rampage against technology, they form an unlikely friendship.
On the one hand, I can definitely see what this movie was trying to do. It’s very hard to make an animated family movie that’s heart warming, moral, and original. Most plot lines and characters become recycled and yawningly familiar, so kudos to writer/directors Kevin R. Adams and Joe Ksander for trying to step away from that. Next Gen’s story is familiar up to a point where it suddenly spins, does a backflip over our heads, and attacks from behind. The turn it takes is a little dark and might cause really young audiences to wet themselves (if they haven’t already), but I like a little bit of downright evilness in my animated movies; I was raised on it and it’s done me no harm.
Where I have an issue with the film is with the protagonist. Mai is actually more of an antihero and from the beginning we are primed to feel sorry for her and root for her and hope that everything ends happily for her, however midway through the movie she hijacks a robot and openly commits a bunch of federal crimes (mostly destruction of public and private property). Now, while it’s nice that it’s the robot that teaches Mai about the ethical lesson about being human and not the other way around, I definitely don’t think an angry and emotionally unstable teenager with hostile tendencies is the best protagonist for a kids’ film and if I had children, I would certainly sit them down and explain that if they tried any of the stuff that Mai does in this movie in real life, they would end up in foster care or some juvenile detention centre.
But, as an animated movie, Next Gen is all sweet, funny, and scary. The story (for the most part) is recognisable with important themes about identity, it takes an unexpected turn, which keeps it fresh and engaging, the animation is crisp, the world of the film is exciting, and the characters are all fresh and different.
Maybe before you let your younglings watch it do a little pep talk: ‘This is Mai. Mai likes to blow up things that don’t belong to her. Don’t be like Mai.’