The bright lights, the big city, at one point or another every aspiring performer dreams of seeing their name on the grand marquee of a Broadway theater. In the new Disney+ original movie “Better Nate than Ever,” Tim Federle explores what happens if a small kid with a big dream gets to pursue his wishes and be a star.
“Better Nate Than Ever” premiered on Disney+ on April 1. The movie follows the titular character, Nate (Rueby Wood), a Pittsburgh middle school theater kid with a growing frustration at the fact that he can’t seem to land a lead role. When he discovers that Disney will be producing a Broadway musical adaptation of “Lilo & Stitch,” Nate and his best friend Libby (Aria Brooks) sneak away to New York for the weekend to attend an open casting call. While there, Nate reunites with his distant aunt (Lisa Kudrow), an aspiring actor working as a caterer until she makes it big time. On this trip, Libby discovers her new potential passion to become an agent while Nate realizes that it will take more than talent to land the role of Stitch, everybody’s favorite talking blue alien. This film tackles relatable themes of growing up, discovering yourself, friendship and family.
One of the most charming aspects of the movie is Nate himself. While not the most polished child actor to enter the “Lilo & Stitch” auditions, the protagonist is relatable to any child who yearns to make it in the big city. Nate may not know what his next moves should be, but he has a genuine charm in his love for the stage. With his wholesome determination and charisma, as an audience, we are compelled to root for him. While child actors can easily fall into a perception of being entitled, Nate’s gratefulness at the opportunity to make it through multiple rounds of auditions makes him appear as a genuine kid with a lot of spunk. It is also incredibly heartwarming to see him grow as a character and learn to connect with his brother (Joshua Bassett).
Before watching this movie, it is important to acknowledge that “Better Nate Than Ever” is not a realistic depiction of a Broadway actor’s casting process. However, it is a relatable depiction of being a kid with grandiose dreams. One of the highlight moments of the film occurs when Nate goes to Times Square and sings along with a street performing band. Most saxophone players would probably be annoyed to have a random kid intruding on their jam session, but a lot of kids dream about breaking into a spontaneous musical number that goes viral online (which was exactly the case for Nate).
Aside from a narrative that is pure wish-fulfillment for most musical theater actors, “Better Nate Than Ever” also poses must-see elements for any Broadway enthusiast. Theater viewers may be quick to notice popular theater actors in supporting or cameo roles like Mandy Gonzalez (“In the Heights,” “Hamilton”), Norbert Leo Butz (“Wicked,” “Rent”), Michelle Federer (“Wicked”), Priscilla Lopez (“A Chorus Line,” “In the Heights”) and Jared Goldsmith (“Dear Evan Hansen”). There are also countless references to classic musical theater shows and songs.
While not the most realistic story surrounding the Broadway world, “Better Nate Than Ever” is worth a watch for any kid (or kid at heart) with big dreams. The movie presents a promising performance from Rueby Wood and Aria Brooks, a relatable dream and a heartwarming narrative. Ultimately, “Better Nate Than Ever” is a fun light-hearted flick for any fan of the theater.
“Better Nate than Ever” can be streamed on Disney+.