To borrow a term from Michael Eisner, Disney+ has allowed The Walt Disney Studios to return to making “singles and doubles.” The idea was that if you had enough success with smaller-scale films, it could act like a hedge against the riskier big-budget blockbusters. The movie business has evolved to be focused on tentpoles, and those smaller films have seemed to make an ever-decreasing impact. When Disney+ launched, they believed the service could be the home of movies like Timmy Failure, Stargirl, and Noelle. Living somewhere between a Disney Channel Original Movie and a theatrical blockbuster, these films provide comfortable family viewing that evokes memories of the original films commissioned for The Wonderful World of Disney. With the content strategy shifting for Disney+, it is hard to determine if these films will still be made for the service, but luckily we have already received some gems, including the newly released World’s Best.
The film stars Manny Magnus as a 12-year-old math genius, Prem Patel, who discovers that his deceased father was a rapper. His dad, played by the multi-hyphenate Utkarsh Ambudkar, returns to life thanks to Prem’s imagination. He quickly embraces the idea of continuing his father’s legacy, always heading his dad’s catchphrase, “The world’s best never rests.” But perhaps focusing on his dad’s legacy could get in the way of embracing his mother’s love of math as he gets distracted in his advanced high school level course as they try to place in the Mathletic championship. Adding to Prem’s troubles are that his best friend Jerome, played by Max Malas, has a new girlfriend who is associated with the bullies that torment him.
There is a lot to love about the film, the highlight of which is Manny Magnus’s performance. His ability to transition from a meek adolescent to a confident rapper is seamless. Despite the total flip in confidence, you still see that the same character is behind both modes. While his scenes with his dad are as fun as expected, it is the time he spends with his mom (Punam Patel), which ends up being the emotional core of the film. In the process of becoming more like his dad, you sense the turmoil of having her son move away from her, while never losing the love.
The music sequences are also a lot of fun. The songs, co-written by Ambudkar and Charlie Wilder, will be stuck in your head and bring a smile to your face. The only downside is that the music sequences are a bit smaller in scope than you may expect, considering they often take place in a fantasy sequence. Oftentimes they end right when you feel they have just hit their stride. This is one area where a little bit more production value could have gone a long way.
But the core of the story, an emotional journey of a kid trying to find out who he is, never falters. Watching Prem go on his journey, you worry when he stumbles and are proud of him when he succeeds. No matter the scope, the heart of every good Disney story is the characters. You will fall in love with the Patel family as you meet them while sitting on the couch with yours. It is the perfect Disney Sunday Night movie.
I give World’s Best 4 out of 5 stars. It is streaming now on Disney+