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Film / How to Build a Better Boy

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How To Build A Better Boy is a 2014 Disney Channel Original Movie.

The film is about 2 tenth grade girls Mae Hartley (Kelli Berglund) and Gabby Harrison (China Anne McClain) who create a virtual perfect boyfriend they name Albert (Marshall Williams). Unknown to them is that Albert is actually a prototype robot soldier called the X-17. He is programmed with a mission to be Mae’s perfect boyfriend and take her to homecoming. After arriving at their school, he becomes Mae’s boyfriend leading to a rift between her and Gabby. Meanwhile both Federal agents and black market spies are trying to retrieve Albert for their own ends. Mae and Gabby, along with Mae’s brother Bart (Matt Shively), learn Albert is actually a robot. At the homecoming dance, Albert convinces Mae to have him self-destruct since the government will never stop getting him back. After doing so, Mae and Gabby reconcile and Gabby starts dating Bart.

The movie also features Noah Centineo as Jaden, a jock Mae has a crush on, and Ashley Argot as Nevaeh, the head cheerleader who is currently dating Jaden and is a bully to Mae and Gabby, but especially Mae.

This movie provides examples of:

  • All-Loving Hero: Mae and Gabby programmed Albert to be this way. He is nice to everyone and even rescues a frog from dissection at one point.
  • Alpha Bitch: Head cheerleader Neveah. The worst she does is make fun of Mae for having a crush on Jaden and not having an actual boyfriend and Gabby for being nerdy.
  • An Aesop: The film leans toward this with Mae. She learns that no matter how perfect or ideal she wants something to be, it also has to be real and genuine and not manufactured. Albert agrees with this.
  • Angst? What Angst?: After watching her boyfriend explode right in front of her, how does Mae react? Dance of course! The only one showing any grief over Albert's death is the General who commissioned the project, most likely because of the waste of money and loss of his robot soldier.
  • Clueless Chick-Magnet: Albert, though he was sort of programmed that way. He only has eyes for Mae, but other girls are obviously attracted to him. When they thought he was only a virtual program, Gabby had programmed Albert to be cute but not be aware of how cute he is, which makes other girls like him more.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: A rather dark example by Disney standards. Albert knows he and Mae can never truly be together. He has Mae activate his self-destruct, which blows him up. This leads the way for Jaden and Mae to become the official couple.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: All the girls with Albert because he is just that good looking. Played with because Mae and Gabby programmed him to be attractive without him knowing how good he looks which makes him “cuter” to them.
    • One of the agents also makes a reference that a bystander who saw Albert (naked) was also too distracted by him to notice his face; only his body. A little Squicky because the bystander who saw him was implied to be an older woman while Albert is only a teenager.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Played with when Albert arrives. He does a Menacing Stroll out of a sports car and looks like he could be kid!Terminator, playing with being a Bad Boy. A moment later he is smiling and is constantly positive.
  • Explosion Propulsion: Right before blowing up, Albert launches himself through the school gym's roof, leaving a giant hole, so he can explode far away without hurting anyone.
  • Girlfriend in Canada: Boyfriend to be specific. Mae initially lied that she has a boyfriend but he lives in Alaska. When Albert arrives, he states, as part of his backstory, he and his fictional family were relocated from Alaska to DC, as part of his father's job.
  • Good-Times Montage: Mae and Albert are shown in one after he meets her at school. The entire montage seems to take place over the course of one day.
  • Grew Beyond Their Programming: Implied with Albert. Initially, he was very rigid and acted old fashioned. After the Black Sigma EMP shuts Albert down, he reboots and is slightly more sarcastic and jokey. He also asks Mae to intentionally destroy him so he doesn’t become a weapon.
  • The Hero Dies: Rather than be captured and reprogrammed, Albert asks Mae to destroy him. She does so by activating his self-destruct. This is the happy ending.
  • Karma Houdini: Other than Jaden breaking up with her, nothing bad really happens to Neveah, despite her bullying. The worst is she does not get to be homecoming queen.
  • Lovable Jock: Jaden and Albert.
  • Love Triangle: Mae has a crush on Jaden, who is dating head cheerleader Neveah. Jaden shows interest in Mae but can’t break up with Neveah. Jaden also becomes jealous of her and Albert after they become a couple. In the end, Jaden and Mae become the official couple.
  • Made of Iron: Albert, though technically he is made of steel. When punched in his fight with a Black Sigma agent, there is a metallic *klang* sound.
  • Masquerade: Albert is supposed to be a normal teenager and must hide the fact he's a robot. Throughout the film, when characters make comments that might lead Albert to think they know something is different about him, he responds with his background information or goes silent, as if he is thinking of how to respond to convince the character he is human. For example, early in the film, Gabby thinks he's wearing a mask, which he technically is, over his robot form. Albert simply responds, as if reciting lines, with his name and where he is from, and Gabby changes the conversation, upholding the masquerade.
  • Mundane Utility: Take a robot super soldier and put it in a high school setting, and you get this. Super-Strength? Use it to win a football game. Made of Iron? Use it to shrug off being tackled in the aforementioned football game. Super-Speed Reading? Use it to quickly read books to impress the love interest.
  • Nice Guy: Albert.
  • Pretty Boy: Again, Albert. Mae and Gabby intentionally designed him to be one though.
  • Shirtless Scene: Twice very briefly with Albert, of course. The first time he is naked, so it also doubled as a way to show off his Super-Speed to hide any loose ends.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: The X-17 robot has one built into it that only triggers if its handler says “initiate self-destruct” while looking into its eyes. At Albert’s request, Mae does so.
  • Super Prototype: The X-17 robot was designed to be one. During the movie, Albert is shown to have super strength, speed, hearing and the ability to read very fast.
  • Super-Senses: In addition to super strength and speed, it is also shown Albert has super hearing.
  • Super-Speed: Albert can move very fast, in an eye blink.
  • Super-Speed Reading: Albert can read very fast. When he does, he sounds literally like a machine recording the information.
  • Super-Strength: Albert, as a robot soldier, naturally has this.
  • Ridiculously Human Robot: Albert. We only see his white robot form briefly. Nothing gives away he is a robot and part of his programming is to actively disguise the fact he is one.
  • Robot Soldier: Albert was supposed to be one. After his EMP reboot, the agents who recovered him stated he reverted to his original purpose: of building schools for children and training dolphins for search and rescue.
  • Voice Changeling: Albert is shown mimicking other voices, specifically when he imitates one of the Black Sigma agents.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Briefly brought up. Gabby tells Albert (post reboot) that he and Mae can't end up together because he is a robot and she is a human. Albert says its not impossible, implying they can. Averted when Albert destroys himself right before telling Mae they can't be together. Either he realized Gabby was right or it was part of his plan overall, with the end result of giving Mae more confidence.