A Serious but fun film about robots, memories and the need to unplug at times
If you've enjoyed insightful and entertaining films set in a future where robots do everything from style your hair and brush your teeth, to enforcing law, then this film should be on your radar. It comes with some serious themes, and it does those themes justice, and this should be considered before sharing it with your children.
The main character is the only child in a family without a father. Her mother becomes obsessed with technology, leaving her daughter to develop a hatred for robots that can never fill the void in her life while distracting her mother's attention from her. The resentment is also connected to the bullying she is subjected to by fellow students who use their robots to hold her down and even to take an active role in the bullying. These include scenes of the father leaving in an argument and several scenes of the main character being hurt.
Stumbling upon a secret project, she becomes friends with a new robot that was built to protect people. At first she uses the robot to carry out revenge and empower her against the robots she hates, but soon the robot itself calls to question the actions she has him carrying out, even suggesting that she could be friends with her enemies. Before long, a damaged memory core leads the robot to have to make a tough choice about which memories to keep, and which to delete to make space for the best.
Themes of divorce and bullying are portrayed in mild manner, but are serious concepts. People make poor choices, and are subject to neglect, but these concepts are given a clear outcome that demonstrate a morally compelling caution about technology controlling your life.
Played for laughs, the robot has a profanity filter that bleeps out most of what the dog says while barking at various things. The dog is very small, and has an inflated ego, so it is literally a dog whose bark is worse than his bite. Some will find this funny, others offensive, however it was not obvious what he was saying as there are times when almost everything he says is bleeped out.
There was a background song that clearly has an "f" word removed. It surprised me that it was used in the film, and again it is in the background, so easily missed.
Present through most of the film is a near constant stream of violence against and between robots. Infrequently, a human is threatened and a parent is abducted. The violence escalates towards the end of the film, shifting from slapstick to a more serious tone, including a damaged robot that looks like a man holding a gun to a girl's head, and another threatening to kill all humans. A man is suddenly vapourized, which I feel added nothing to the story except to reinforce a serious tone. (Truthfully, I feel the character would have been better served to have survived the scene and reappeared later to create more of a sense of hope in the final scene.)
Remembering Toy Story 2's introduction wherein Buzz Lightyear fires a laser into a crystal, destroying thousands of enemies, Next Gen combines a similar scene with a Gundam-like final battle that is visually and emotionally impactful. While emotional at times, and a bit clumsy around the middle act, it is an experience that had both of my children (11y/o boy and 9 y/o girl) laughing and talking from start to finish. Afterward we had healthy conversation about bullies, violence and the moral choices reflected in the movie.
This title contains:
Positive role models
Violence & scariness