Director: Kevin R. Adams, Joe Ksander
Cast: Charlyne Yi, Constance Wu, David Cross, John Krasinski, Jason Sudeikis
Watch Next Gen online in the UK: Netflix UK
“You love robots more than you love me.” “What’s that honey?” That’s Mai (Charlyne Yi) and her distracted mum, Molly (Constance Wu), in Next Gen, Netflix’s new animated movie. Set in a Singapore-like city where robots are the latest must-have accessory, it’s a futuristic fable that tackles friendship, phone addiction and other electronic things that look really cool.
As you’d expect for such a subject, directors Kevin R. Adams, Joe Ksander (part of the animation team on Kronk’s New Groove and Shane Acker’s 9 respectively) conjure up some slick, colourful visuals, soaring through the cityscape with a bright, smooth style. That really pays off in some key action sequences, particularly an early car chase and a climactic stadium showdown, fusing the curving, glossy design of modern product design with explosions, guns and other electronic things that look really cool.
At the heart of this action is Mai, who stumbles upon 7723, a groundbreaking new robot developed in secret. He’s sentient, smart and powered by friendly sentiments. In other words, he’s not your average household companion, the kind churned out by Justin Pin (Jason Sudeikis), the Steve Jobsian CEO of the world’s omnipresent tech firm. Why was he made by Dr. Tanner Rice (David Cross), Pin’s behind-the-scenes genius? The plot doesn’t hold many surprises in that regard, with Sudeikis delivering his company announcements with a sinister, greasy streak.
Where Next Gen does work, though, is in its bond between 7723 and Mai. Voiced with a genial kindness by John Krasinski, the hulking machine comes fully stocked with all manner of lasers and a dose of super-strength – more a weapon than anything. It’s a twist that recalls The Iron Giant, but finds some topical resonance in its 2018 update: lonely and undervalued, Mai decides to use her mechanical BFF to fix injustice in the world, which mostly just means petty revenge against people at school. But while she becomes more ruthless, 7723 becomes more human – a process that’s flagged up through a nifty device surrounding his growing bank of memories, which he has to start selectively deleting due to a lack of memory space.
It’s that metaphor that helps to offset a slightly unsympathetic streak in our young protagonist and openly calls her out for her own emotional arc – in a theme that echoes Song of the Sea, Next Gen highlights the importance of both sad and happy memories. The result might not be the most original kids’ movie (the story is based on the book 7723 by Wang Nima), but Next Gen has enough heart – and enough machine-tooled polish – to make for a fun, thoughtful sci-fi adventure.
Next Gen is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.