What happens when you run out of story ideas for popular cartoon characters? Either you spin off a new baby version of them or you introduce their kids. The latter was the choice for "Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow," the latest installment in the popular video series of animated Marvel adventures. Picking up years after the defeat of The Avengers by the evil force Ultron, which left most of them dead, the movie follows their tween children, now in the care of survivor Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). James (son of Captain America and Black Widow), Torunn (daughter of Thor), Azari (son of Black Panther and Storm), and Pym (son of Giant Man and Wasp) all possess certain super powers inherited from their parents, and under Stark's tutelage they learn to control and use these powers in preparation to one day take their parents' place. That day comes sooner than expected when they accidentally let loose a series of robots made in the Avengers' images, revealing the location of Stark's base to Ultron who comes to kill the children. In his effort to save them, Stark himself is captured by Ultron, leaving the youngsters to prove their worth.
As they set out to rescue Stark, the team encounters a fifth Avenger offspring, Francis, the son of Hawkeye. Believing for years that he was the last Avenger, Francis is initially unwilling to help in their plight out of jealousy and disillusionment, but his attraction to Torunn makes him change his mind. They eventually set out to find another surviving Avenger, Bruce Banner (aka The Hulk) to help them defeat Ultron once and for all, but this proves to be a challenge all its own.
As standard kiddie fare goes, "Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow" is reasonably entertaining. It is clear that this film was made largely for younger viewers than previous video releases. The darkness of the original Avengers' deaths notwithstanding, the general story seems a bit watered down compared to typical Marvel adventures. The young characters are energetic and spunky, but they fall into the usual clichés of teenage heroes. James is the smart but reluctant hero, Torunn the brave yet emotional one, Azari the wisecracker, Pym the arrogant smallfry, and Francis the tough romantic. These are not the compelling and complex characters that Marvel fans usually root for, but tween viewers will relate to them.
The climactic battle between the young Avengers and Ultron is the highlight of the film, delivering plenty of PG-rated action. It is presented with the kind of sound and fury we expect of superheroes but just soft enough not to scare the little ones. The depiction of Bruce Banner/The Hulk as an older character, haggard and frightened of what he has become, was more intriguing than I would have initially thought, and he also makes the film's last third good viewing. As an adult, however, arriving at this climax is a bit of a trek. Perhaps it is just me and my jaded sensibilities, but the attempt to make a child-friendly action film did not quite make the stretch. I personally believe that younger viewers, especially ages 12 and up, are sophisticated enough to handle a more complex storyline and more developed characters, so while I may not be in a position to actually judge the film on that level, it seems that this could have been much more exciting for adults while still reaching its target audience.
Lions Gate Home Entertainment has presented the animated movie in an anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer, which looks very good. Colors are strong throughout, and black levels are solid. The picture is smooth and clear as we would expect of a new cartoon. The animation is strong for a direct-to-DVD release, and the image quality here certainly does it justice.
Audio is presented in both English- and Spanish-language Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. The sound is generally subdued, but the climactic fight is given a good boost by the surround distribution. Sound effects, music, and voices are all rendered clearly and smoothly, providing a pleasing experience.
The main extras are two short featurettes. The first, "Legacy: The Making of Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow," lasts 11 minutes and is pretty typical PR fluff concerning the development of the story, the production, and the casting. The second, "Kid Power: Next-Gen Marvel," is more PR fluff, but this one is a little bit more interesting. At 10 minutes, it sheds light not only on this film but on several Marvel comics designed specifically for kids, including "Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius," an offshoot of "The Fantastic Four."
Up next are two sneak peeks at the upcoming animated features "Hulk vs. Wolverine" and "Hulk vs. Thor." Rounding out the disc is a trailer gallery for other Lions Gate releases.
"Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow" is harmless and lightweight entertainment, but it is strictly for the tween crowd. With by-the-numbers characters and only a marginally interesting setup, however, even younger viewers may grow impatient as the film makes its way to a pretty good climax. This will probably be of interest mainly to diehard Marvel collectors and those intent on completing the video series. It will not likely be anyone's choice for the strongest entry.