Monday, September 10, 2018

Review: Netflix's "NextGen" is visually arresting, but doesn't really feel like a family movie

NextGen Review
It seems like more and more companies are trying to get into the children's family business. I can hardly blame them. Lots of these movies, except unless they come from the Disney vault, aren't based upon other sources. If they catch on, that's usually not just one or two, but sometimes three or four tickets that get bought in one sitting. If they really catch on, families will back again and again. Then, boom, you've got yourself a film franchise. It seems Paramount and Sony and Dreamworks are all working hard to compete with the Disney-Pixar machine, and why not? Competition is a good thing, no matter if Disney is eyeing to buy the whole damn world, competition is a good thing. It seems Netflix getting into the children's film business was only a matter of time. Why does a family have to spend tons of money on growing movie ticket prices and overpriced snacks when you can cuddle up on your own couch and make your own snacks for free?

"NextGen" is a bold statement for the animated family film by Netflix. I am not sure it works as a satisfying whole. But there are a couple of things that the movie does so right that I have to give it a recommendation. It's not flat out awful like so many Netflix original films are. There are some familiar voices in this movie, including John Krasinski, Jason Sudeikis, Constance Wu, David Cross and Michael Pena, just to name a few. For some reason, it never feels forced, the voices don't stick out like a sore thumb like the big celebrity voices can sometimes do. The computer animation is absolutely breathtaking. It's so richly detailed that while you are sitting at home, depending on how awesome your home television is, its a dreamlike vision. There is some action in the movie, and I was impressed that the action felt more cinematic in a grounded way instead of action feeling very childish. I'm not trying to sound negative, I just think that there is a certain style of acti81,on you find in animated kids movies, but "NextGen" makes something that feels more for the movies.

The story is going to sound wildly familiar. Millennials and young parents may find themselves dosing off depending on what they think of the storyline, because like I said, you've seen this movie before. It is essentially a "kid falls in love with their giant robot" movie. If you've seen "The Iron Giant." If you've seen "Transformers." If you've seen "Big Hero Six." There have been versions of this story that haven't involved robots, but aliens or monsters or whatever. It's an old, almost cliche story device at this point. Charlyne Yi voices Mai, a girl whose father walked out on her when she was very young. She's grown up with her mother (Wu) but still feels distant from her when lots of technology starts taking over. Every home has a personal robot thanks to IQ Robotics. Sudeikis gives voice to the charismatic Justin Pin, who is introducing a new line of personal robots. Pin has a little sidekick, who is working on some side projects and one of them gets away and finds its way to Mai.

The first half of the movie is the best part. The film does a really good job of setting up Mai and the renegade robot 72281, voiced by Krasinski. The film eventually boils down to a broken robot and a broken girl having an inseparable bond, and that is a very sweet message. Like I said familiar, the characters both save each other, but there is some semi-mature content in this film, and it will take some serious discussions between parent and child afterward, which can be rewarding.

But there lies the problem as well. This movie can't decide if it wants to be a children's movie or a movie about childhood. Yes, there is a huge difference. "Where The Wild Things Are" is a movie about childhood, it has nothing in common with your typical Pixar movie. There are some big themes this movie is playing with, and I love the ambition. But the tonal shifts almost become too hard to bare. Is the film intended to be something kid-friendly, or something to be taken a little more seriously, the movie can't decide, so how can we? It can't even decide on its humor. There is a pet dog in the movie, and in the middle of the movie, it randomly begins talking. The movie bleeps out two words that were meant to be F-bombs, and it becomes awkward to listen to. Plus, the dog only talking through mere parts of the movie makes no sense with the rest of the movie.

No matter how you look at it, even though inconsistent, "NextGen" still manages to pull off an ultimately enjoyable experience. Thanks in large part to its beautiful animation and its cinematic action sequences. There are couple moments that I want to just watch again, and that's the beauty of having these movies on hand due to the streaming services. Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu and everything coming in the future are only going to get more competitive, and if they keep reaching like they did here, the audience will be the winners every time.

FINAL GRADE: B

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