Now this is how you do a musical movie. Better Nate Than Ever is proof that when the Disney formula works, it works so well.
The movie follows Nate (newcomer Rueby Wood), who has an immense love for musical theatre. But alas, he’s never been able to clinch the lead role in any of his school performances. After the cast list is revealed, and Nate discovers that he is once again in the chorus, he and best friend Libby (Aria Brooks) hatch a plan to travel to New York to audition for a Broadway version of Lilo and Stitch.
With Nate’s parents having a weekend away, and Nate’s brother Anthony (Joshua Bassett) off at an away game, this is Nate’s time to shine. So, he and Libby take the bus and head on down to New York, only they run into a few problems at the audition. Nate’s underaged, so he needs a parent to be there with him if he wants to audition. Through sheer fate, his aunt Heidi (Lisa Kudrow) enters the picture, and Nate, somehow, against all odds, manages to make an impression, just by being himself.
Wood is amazing. He’s charismatic and confident — a wonderful entertainer with a beautiful voice. I enjoyed every musical number he performed, ranging from the amazing set pieces to the simple ones, like when he was just basking on the street. Not only that, he’s a pretty good actor as well. He emotes so well, and his scenes with Kudrow are really the heart of the movie.
His relationship with Brooks’ Libby is also handled well. Both Nate and Libby are best friends, but they are also at that age where friendship can feel like more. I love how the film handled Nate’s sense of identity and self. There’s acceptance from everyone, and even his brother, who he assumed disliked how different he is, doesn’t actually feel that way. The film doesn’t make a big deal out of that difference – Nate’s just Nate.
I do wish that Bassett had some opportunity to sing. It’s strange to see him in a musical movie and not be performing in any way, especially since we know he has an incredible voice.
While it may feel like everything’s a little too fairy tale in this film, I do think there is a dose of reality through Heidi’s storyline. All her life she’s prioritised her dream over everything, and that’s created a distance between her and her sister. The movie also dives into the cyclic nature of dreams. After all, Heidi made it to Broadway, yet she’s still auditioning years later. As wonderful as it is to fulfil those Broadway dreams, sometimes it be so crushing to come so far, only to be told that there’s still a long way to go.
But what guides all these dreamers is a love for theater, a desire to light up the stage, allowing audiences to escape their bleak realities for as long as the show allows.
If you’re looking for a movie to watch with the family over the weekend, and you have Disney+, I wholeheartedly recommend checking out this heartwarming movie. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll have a whale of a time.
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Better Nate Than Ever is the epitome of what Disney does best: an entertaining movie musical with so much heart.
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