Starring: Rueby Wood, Lisa Kudrow, Joshua Basset, Aria Brooks, and Norbert Leo Butz.
Directed By: Tim Federel
Where I Watched it: Disney Plus
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
The plot: Nate (Wood) is a delightful 7th grader who dreams of being a big Broadway star one day. But surviving his school seems like a challenge, as the other kids tease and bully him, and he can’t even get cast out of the ensemble. Then his best friend, Libby (Brooks) notices an open casting call for Lilo and Stitch the musical, and the two devise a plan to make it to the auditions. The problem? They don’t live in New York. So, some scheming must happen so Nate can take his shot at the big time.
What Works: This is such a nice surprise from Disney. It’s amazing that right in the middle of this Don’t Say Gay political climate that they drop a movie that manages to never define Nate with that word. Oh wait, this is the What Works section. Sorry, I got a bit distracted by the need to dance around, but also clearly define Nate without ever saying the word.
Nate is a phenomenal singer. The kid,Thank God, has performing experience, having played Charlie in a national tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so he didn’t need to be auto tuned to death. Nice strong voice, and he has character for days. Lisa Kudrow’s aunt character describes him as if Nathan Lane and the Tasmanian Devil had a baby, but I think it’s more like if Nathan Lane was just on an IV drip of Red Bull.
As a fan of musical theatre myself, I was going to probably like this film anyway. though, I don’t like every single musical that hits theatres, like I can say In The heights wasn’t a good adaptation, and Cats was terrible. But this little gem, this was like magic in a bottle.
of course, this is still far more optimistic and aimed a kids than it really needs to be. Teaching kids that you’ll probably be OK running away to NYC for a few days, maybe isn’t the best message, but who cares. Nate is delightful, and this film put a smile on my face. And that’s what it was supposed to do.
And despite Disney’s best efforts to not say gay, this kid spends a large portion of the film walking around with a rainbow colored rabbits foot. You decide.
What Doesn’t Work: Like i said, there’s just a bit too much schmaltz here. It’s almost too pretty, and wrapped in too nice of a bow. To be taken seriously. It’s just entertaining fluff that is cute to watch with the family. While it has some opportunities to make deep emotional connections, it avoids doing so I think in an effort to not alienate some parents who don’t want to watch a film with their kids that has an openly gay 7th grade protagonist.
But if we’re being honest, the writing is all over the walls. Disney does just about everything other than have him say the word, with adults having conversations that are quite obvious. For example, his parents allow him to spend the night at a girls house, when they won’t let his older brother. When his older brother balks, they say it’s because Nate is “different”. Later, he and his best friend have this moment where he suggest to her that he loves her, but can’t love her like that. Then a woman in that scene tells the girl, I’ll explain it to you later. And that she ended up marrying someone like Nate, that’s how she knows. Finally, there’s the exchange where he tells his friend “Love you like a sister”, to which she returns the exact same thing. She doesn’t say brother.
So what doesn’t work? Why go to all the trouble of making sure it’s dead obvious that Nate is gay, and not say it, and then release this film at the exact same time you’re trying to fight for the LGBT population?
The Blind Perspective: The description does a great job of navigating some of the more difficult moments, like Nate’s dream sequences, and his occasional bursts into song. It’s really good audio description. The only thing was, I didn’t pick up on Libby being black until the emoji scene. I assumed she was some kind of Asian or islander when she was showing up for Lilo, a Hawaiian girl. I assumed wrong.
Her skin color has no relevance to the plot, except the assumption is that she would be matching Lilo, since that’s what she was auditioning for initially. It just threw me for a second.
Final Thoughts: Most of the problems I have are not with the film, but rather Disney’s desire to avoid a certain word. The only thing I can hold against this movie is that it is just a little too sugary sweet for a perfect score. It went a bit too far, and could have grounded itself just a tad better. But I still love this, I’d watch it again, and Nate is amazing. I think kids should watch this, just so they know that being different isn’t bad, and to stop unnecessary hate.
Final Grade: A-