Review: “Next Gen” Offers Impressive Animation, But Lacks Heart of its Peers

Photo Courtesy: Netflix

“Next Gen” is an animated film based on the webcomic series “7723” by Wang Nima. While not the worst animated film ever made, it is still a highly derivative film that can never focus its story and tone despite being visually stunning.

The story follows a troubled young woman named Mai (voice of Charlyne Yi). She is none too thrilled about the invasive amounts of robotics in her life, and her attitude gets no better when her father goes to play soccer overseas; then dies in an apparent accident. This is the most basic motivation for her character, since the film does little to actually develop her relationships with her classmates or her mother Molly (voice of Constance Wu).

One day, when attending a product unveiling by robotics magnate Jeremy Pin (voice of Jason Sudeikis), she stumbles upon a prototype robot known as “7723” (voice of John Krasinski). The two then decide to form a reluctant alliance to get back at Mai’s enemies and unmask a conspiracy that could bring disaster to the world.

While the film often tries to subvert many of the tropes and plot threads most animated family adventures are known to have, there are other times where “Next Gen” wholeheartedly embraces the story and character beats seen in countless other films like it. This is not helped by the uneven tone and pacing that seems like a better fit for a TV series than a single 106-minute movie.

The characterization also falls back on familiar archetypes that don’t to much to distinguish themselves. While Pin is at times presented like a tech guru similar to the late Steve Jobs, at others he embodies negative stereotypes of millennials that don’t really stand out among Jason Sudeikis’ other comedic roles. David Cross fares somewhat better as a basement-dwelling scientist named Dr. Tanner Rice; filling the role of Steve Wozniak.

Still, the film is not totally without merit. The biggest laughs arguably come from a foul-mouthed dog named Momo (voice of Michael Pena), and the voice casting is strong overall. The animation is impressive for a film of this type, with the setting blending elements of the United States and the film’s native China. An amusing flourish has many of the city’s flying cars being outfitted with 1970s-style shag carpets and fake wood paneling.

Even so, there is little that the movie offers that hasn’t already been done by countless other works of its type. It lacks the heart of films such as Disney’s “Big Hero 6,” Pixar’s “WALL-E” and Brad Bird’s gem “The Iron Giant.” The film can also never decide whether it wants to show the positive role of technology or the dangers of being obsessed with the latest tech. By the time the third act arrives, it’s hard to care much about anything going on as the final battle settles into another flurry of CGI destruction that seems leftover from one of Marvel’s “Iron Man” films or the live-action “Transformers” movies.

Above all, while “Next Gen” isn’t a terrible film, it also isn’t a great one either. While the technical aspects are as slick as the latest iPhone, the script and characters seem like relics of the Commodore 64 era. With Netflix seeking to invest even more in animated content in the coming years, it’s a movie that feels like a beta test for bigger and better projects.

Verdict: 2.5 Stars out of 5

Review by Steven Pryor

At a Glance:

Starring the voices of Charlyne Yi, Jason Sudeikis, Michael Pena, David Cross, Constance Wu, Anna Akana, Kitana Turnbull, Jet Jurgensmeyer, Betsy Sudaro and John Krasinski
Directed by Joe Ksander and Kevin R. Adams (Based on “7723” by Wang Nima)
Available on Netflix
Rated TV-PG

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