Reel Reviews | Better Nate Than Ever

By Charles Kirkland Jr.

How does a kid from Pittsburgh go about getting a break in the acting world?  By running off to Broadway in the Disney musical, Better Nate Than Ever.

Poor Nate (Rueby Wood).  This thirteen-year-old, die-hard, Broadway musical devotee, who happens to live in Pittsburgh, can’t even get cast as anything but a tree in his own middle school’s musical.  Depressed and dejected, Nate’s best friend, Libby (Aria Brooks) tells him of an audition for “Lilo and Stitch: The Musical” for which she thinks Nate is perfect.  The only problem is that it is a Broadway show and yes, the audition is in New York!  Inspired by the opportunity, Nate and Libby hatch a plan to get to New York and to that audition.  Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, what could go wrong?

Better Nate Than Ever is the Disney musical in a long line of Disney musicals.  Written and directed by Tim Federle, it stars Wood and Brooks, Lisa Kudrow, and Joshua Benett and features a special cameo by a certain jazz star famously linked to Broadway. Federle claims that the story is semi-autobiographical in that he was the kid who loved musicals and felt out of place in his Midwestern upbringing.

OK.  Disney does musicals, a lot of musicals.  They have a formula and most of the time it works.  This musical tale happens to be a coming-of-age story that runs face forward into an action-adventure.  Think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off smashed together with Adventures in Babysitting.

If you look past the “gay boy loves musicals” cliché, the story by Federle is well-composed and very family-friendly.  Despite, Federle’s claims, there is no disclaimer that the movie is based upon or even inspired by true events so, the work must be considered a true work of fiction.  Federle does capture the unpleasant elements of child acting and auditions in a way that accents the humor and allows you to look past how ugly they can be.  Thank goodness this is a family film.  Par for the course with any Disney live-action film, the parents are a little clueless and easily deceived.  The children get away with situations that are just inexplicable and face no repercussions.

Aria Brooks, who could be seen on the Disney show All That, is excellent as the super-organized and well-intentioned best friend that inspires Nate to reach for the impossible.  The true star of the movie is newcomer Rueby Wood in the role of Nate.  He is quirky, hyper, and passionate with a slightly annoying and screechy voice that turns to gold when he belts out a song.  It will be interesting to see where he goes after this film.  Lisa Kudrow works well as the long-lost aunt who is conflicted between being the responsible adult and assisting her nephew to achieve his dream.

In the end, this is a Disney musical so expect to get the “feels” as you watch.  It is decently developed and will make an interesting movie to watch when you are stuck at home with nothing else to do. Speaking of the end, the movie lends itself to a sequel but then plays a few mid-credit scenes that take away all the need.  They are fun to watch though!

Rated PG for thematic material, a suggestive reference, and mild language, Better Nate Than Ever is a decent movie for the family to watch together if you can wrangle them away from their devices.  It is good to clean family fun that will probably be forgotten before long.

Better Nate Than Ever is available on Disney+. 

Grade:  C+