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Netflix’s Most Ambitious CG Effort is a Winner

 

Next Gen is arguably Netflix’s most successful exclusive CG feature film but interestingly, wasn’t even produced with them in mind. In fact the film is a Chinese production based on an online Chinese comic series called 7723 by Wang Nima. Netflix bought up the rights to be the worldwide exclusive distributor of the project but with one caveat: They would have no rights to it in China, where it enjoyed a theatrical run.

The film, an American/ Chinese collaboration, was built upon a budget of $30-million and took in $2.4-million at the box office. Netflix bought it for an additional $30-million, meaning anything the film takes in at this point is profit.

Interesting the entire film was created in Blender – a free open source graphics software tool set. The quality visuals, texturing, and gorgeous animation present here are even more impressive accomplishments given the fact that they were created on software that is literally free to the public.

The story here tells of a young girl named Mai (voiced by Charlyne Yi) within the futuristic and robot-heavy city of Grainland. In addition to being bullied at school; she can’t seem to get her single mother’s robot-obsessed attention.

Meanwhile a company called IQ (think the Apple/ Google of this world) has created a prototype AI unlike any the world has known. Unit 7723 (John Krasinski) escapes his confines at the lab and ends up encountering Mai, who, is bent on seeking vengeance on those who have done her wrong.

Child-like innocence and a powerful need for companionship drives 7723 to becoming the muscle to Mai’s might and before long the unlikely team (Mai is depicted as despising technology, particularly of the robotic variety) end up exacting far more than revenge.

In execution Next Gen feels perhaps most similar to the big budget 2014 Disney film Big Hero 6. Keep in mind that one set “the Diz” back $165-million; so just in being compared can be considered an incredible win for Next Gen.

Pacing is spectacular with the protagonist Mai coming off as bratty and immature initially but developing as a character with a very organic and enjoyable arc within the 105-minute run-time.

The piece is a roller coaster ride of action, emotion, beautiful visuals and laced with some pertinent under-toning themes on the dangers of humanity’s reliance upon technology. It’s very easy to find parallels with the robots in the film to our modern cell-phone dependent society in fact. The core of it all though is the fantastic relationship presented between 7723 and Mai; again, not to repeat myself here, it is a dynamic most comparable to that of Hiro and Baymax in Big Hero 6 without ever feeling derivative or imitative.

If forced to choose a single Netflix CG animated feature film exclusive, Next Gen will be sure to delight on all fronts.