Disney seems to be having a good time mining the eighties lately with their original movies. First we had “Zapped!” which took the title from the raunchy eighties comedy along with a variation of the plot from “Love Potion No. 9,” while “How to…” is really just “Weird Science 3.0.” Except this time its PG rated, and much more based around feminism than misogyny. And rather than building on the entire “Frankenstein” idea, the writers set their sights on the US government surveillance and their plans to build a top secret robot that can infiltrate any setting.
Current Disney stars Kelli Berglund and China Anne McClain plays two geeky best friends Mae and Gabbie, both of whom are top of their class and delight in finishing tests in ten minutes. While this trait would be obnoxious in other characters, McClain and Berglund are charming enough to where their eagerness are charming. I found the fact they wore glasses to be really dumb, considering they’re props used to emphasize Berglund and McClain as nerds, even though it’s established they can see and read without them. The glasses also never make an appearance again except for one instance. Despite the goofy stereotypical exposition of their characters, Mae and Gabbie are really unique and interesting heroines that solve their problems with their intellect rather than numbskullery. Mae is anxious to date Jaden, the school’s star football player but is humiliated by alpha queen Neveah (Ashley Argota).
This prompts Mae to make up a fake boyfriend named Albert to save face. Anxious to help her friend regain her image, Gabbie hacks in to Mae’s father’s computer and intends to build Albert out of his state of the art computer game software. Little do they know Mae’s dad is actually an engineer for the government and is building a top secret super android meant for spy missions. But their plans go awry when the super droid becomes the perfect boyfriend for Mae while evading terrorists that intend to steal him for nefarious purposes. Much of the science fiction elements are left on the table once Albert is introduced, and there’s a lot of focus on Mae’s surge of popularity with Albert’s introduction, and how she manages to deal with it. There’s also Gabbie’s obvious jealousy that becomes a fear she may be losing Mae to the upper echelon of the school. The writers occasionally deal with Albert’s alternate plans, as he does battle with terrorists that attempt to kidnap him, all the while using his technological advancements to win a football game.
But in spite of the occasional meandering, this is strictly a teen dramedy where Albert gives Mae a look at a different life, forcing her to decide if she wants to be someone else, or be true to herself. Like most DCOM’s “How to Build…” becomes very far fetched by the finale where Mae’s dad stands up to the government head, prompting them to arrive at Mae’s prom ensuring a perfect ceremony before Albert de-activates once and for all. But that pretty much comes with the territory and doesn’t affect the overall moral of the story about the beauty of being who you are. Berglund and McClaine are charming and play really empathetic heroines that stay true to themselves regardless of the obstacles. As usual Nickelodeon stalwart Matt Shively steals the show as Mae’s odd but shockingly noble and intelligent older brother who catches on to his sister’s scheme early and tries his best to keep her out of trouble. “How to Build a Better Boy” is really just a “Weird Science” retread, but its entertaining fodder for tween girls interested in a light hearted romance with two really admirable heroines that never lose sight of themselves.