How to Build a Better Boy

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
How to Build a Better Boy TV Poster Image
Positive messages outshine bullying in tween-friendly movie.

Parents say

age 6+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 4+
Based on 5 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

We think this TV show stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Educational Value

The show intends to entertain rather than to educate, but there are some strong reminders to be true to yourself even in the face of peer pressure. 

Positive Messages

Kids see strict social castes at play in a high school setting, and members of the "in crowd" use their popularity to humiliate those outside of the circle. Gabby and Mae are ridiculed for being smart (and in one case a teacher appears exasperated with them because of it, too), and, although they usually brush it off, Mae secretly longs to be an object of people's attention. That said, the story's messages are very positive with reminders about the importance of embracing your unique qualities and being true to your values. Strong themes of friendship, honesty, integrity, and self-respect stand out as well. On the downside, Gabby and Mae don't face any consequences for their actions in breaking into an off-limits computer system, but the story's roots in comedy forgive this omission. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Gabby and Mae are the best of friends, but there's a sticking point to their relationship that happily gets worked out by the story's end, and both girls are better for the experience. In the process, they learn to embrace their differences and consider conflicting opinions. Adults are usually shown to be slow on the uptake, which allows the teens to run the show, but it's meant to be funny and will appeal to the movie's young audience. 

Violence & Scariness

Two characters are in a fistfight, and one is knocked out, but no lasting effects are evident. Very mild tension as teens are pursued by government officials. 

Sexy Stuff

Teens flirt with each other, and girls swoon at the sight of a cute boy. In one scene, he removes his shirt, causing a female classmate to faint. 


The movie includes two new songs sung by Disney stars. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.  

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bycarrieg December 27, 2014

Fun, family appropriate movie

My girls are 6 and 8 and enjoyed the movie a LOT! They thought the boys were cute (sorry, Daddy) and liked the excitement in it. They enjoyed seeing the two gir... Continue reading
Parent of a 6, 8, and 10-year-old Written byMary Mills R. August 7, 2020


It is cool if you are a fan of fantacey.
Kid, 10 years old September 26, 2016

the best movie

It is good and teaches you do not wish for things you have to work for in life or it will go wrong
Teen, 13 years old Written bykaratethuyduong January 21, 2016


This movie is terrific

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? 

  • How do the characters in How to Build a Better Boy demonstrate integrity? Why is that an important character strength?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love funny stuff

Character Strengths

Find more TV shows that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate