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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that How to Build a Better Boy is a feel-good comedy that reminds tweens -- and girls in particular -- that happiness doesn't come from living up to other people's expectations but from staying true to your own. Bullying plays out in some form or another for much of the story, but, as the main characters evolve in positive ways, it's cast in an increasingly negative and desperate light. Teen girls swoon over a cute guy, marveling at his chiseled physique and handsome features, but there's nothing physical beyond hand-holding and close dancing. Parents will notice that the story glosses over consequences the characters should face for breaking into a computer system, but it's all in the spirit of comedy. Kids who know the movie's stars from other Disney productions such as A.N.T. Farm and Lab Rats will want to tune in for this story, and parents can rest easy knowing that its messages are wholesome and easily grasped by kids.
What's the story?
HOW TO BUILD A BETTER BOY stars China Anne McClain and Kelli Berglund as best friends Gabby and Mae, teen geniuses whose aptitude in the classroom makes them social pariahs outside of it. But, while Gabby relishes the distinction between herself and what she sees as her less-evolved peers, Mae secretly longs for the elusive popularity enjoyed by the likes of social queen Nevaeh (Ashley Argota), particularly if it means putting cute guys like Jaden (Noah Centino) within reach. In an effort to assuage her best friend's desires, Gabby hacks into Mae's father's computer system and creates a virtual boyfriend on what she thinks is his new video game creation, but trouble of epic proportion erupts when the imaginary Albert (Marshall Williams) comes to life and shows up at school, thrusting Mae into the spotlight and both girls into the middle of a national security threat.
Is it any good?
This movie appeals to kids and parents with feel-good messages about self-acceptance and standing tall in the face of pressure to conform. Viewers have come to expect a lot from Disney's movies in recent years. Kids wait with bated breath to see their favorite TV stars in different roles, and they want dynamic story lines that will carry them contentedly from the opening to the closing credits. Parents, on the other hand, hope for content that doesn't raise any red flags for that tricky tween age group and has some positive lessons to share. How to Build a Better Boy fits both bills, all played out by a new arrangement of familiar Disney faces guaranteed to draw young crowds. Sure, the concept isn't a new one (ever seen Weird Science?), but it's unlikely that kids in this target age group have seen it done before.
Still, to properly illustrate its points, the story has to start with a premise that won't feel so good to parents in particular, namely that social castes exist and are drawn in indelible lines. Gabby and Mae suffer terribly at the hands of their more popular peers (though they stay mostly upbeat throughout it all), and it's pretty evident that aptitude and popularity are mutually exclusive among this group. But, just as you must first dig a hole to enable a flower to bloom, How to Build a Better Boy lays down roots in this negativity only to transform itself into something that reminds kids of the value of self-acceptance, and that's a beautiful thing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how reality compares to expectation in How to Build a Better Boy. In your experience, do things ever turn out exactly as you hope they will? What other factors come into play? Are the results ever surprising in a good way?
Kids: Have you ever witnessed the kind of bullying that exists in this movie? Why are Gabby and Mae ridiculed for being smart? How would you handle being in a position like theirs?
Why don't Gabby and Mae face any consequences for their actions? Is this kind of thing the norm in the shows you watch? What message does this send to viewers about personal responsibility?
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