‘How to Build a Better Boy’ Review


Disney Channel Original Movies tend to place overacting teenagers in crazy situations. In the past year, we’ve seen teens stuck in a 60’s beach musical, a teenage snowboarder inspiring a former legend to compete again, and a girl whose cell phone can make high school boys do whatever she wants. Sometimes their zany premises work, but most of the time they are easily forgotten and only rerun during late hours of the night when nobody is actually watching Disney Channel.

I can only imagine that there is a machine in the morgue at Walt Disney Studios where a Disney Channel executive visits in secret late at night after everyone else has gone home. He or she pours themselves a glass of champagne, thanks their lucky stars that this machine exists, and pushes the button while playing a round of Tsum Tsum. After some time, the machine spits out a series of random character names, personality traits, and a farfetched idea. This executive comes to work the next day and presents their team with the next DCOM idea. The machine’s name is Agnes and she was also responsible for many bad Disney comedies from the 1970’s and 80’s (Condorman).

Agnes’ latest creation is How to Build a Better Boy. Mae and Gabby are academic BFF’s who prefer to spend their time getting A’s than enjoying the high school experience. After being mocked by the vicious popular girl for not having dates to homecoming, Gabby decides to hack into Mae’s computer programming father’s computer and create a fake boy. What she doesn’t realize is that Mae’s dad works for the Department of Defense’s robotics division and her little game actually created a robotic boyfriend named Albert. But when the government finds out their robotic piece of weaponry has become a high school student, Mae and Gabby have to set things right.

Gabby is played by former Disney Channel star China Anne McClaine (A.N.T. Farm) and Mae is Kellie Berglund, known to Disney XD fans for her work on Lab Rats. Matt Shively plays Mae’s geeky older brother and is an alumnus of Nickelodeon’s The Troop and True Jackson, VP. Disney fans outside of Disney Channel’s target demographic will be happy to see Roger Bart playing Mae’s top-secret robotic engineering father. He was the singing voice of Hercules and has had recurring roles on ABC’s Desperate Housewives and Revenge.

The real problems with How to Build a Better Boy aren’t in the plot. In fact, I’ve seen this type of premise work before (Not Quite Human and an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch). The real problem here is the lack of character development. Mae and Gabby are so one-dimensional that their only interests are academics. The rest of the characters that populate the film have even less depth (the mean girl isn’t given a reason for being mean, the brother is in love with Gabby without cause, etc…). In a movie with a robot boy, the only character that should be this boring is the robot. With such bad writing (thanks Agnes), the actors are forced to overact in an attempt to breath life into these characters, but it just comes off as annoying.

Am I being too hard on this film? After all it is a DCOM, but unless I’m looking back on the DCOM era I grew up during with rose-colored glasses, this dreck wouldn’t have passed. The plots were far fetched then, but the execution was much better. Films like Zenon, Smart House and Halloweentown are fondly remembered because they were well done. This is not, but as long as the tweens tune in on August 15th to watch, Disney Channel can continue using Agnes until her last circuit dies.  

I give How to Build a Better Boy 1 out of 5 robo-boys.

Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).