BIG NATE is Falls Short on Kid-Friendly Morals

Poster via Paramount+

BIG NATE is Falls Short on Kid-Friendly Morals

By Movieguide® Contributor

BIG NATE is a 2022 slice of life 3D animated comedy that premiered on Nickelodeon and Paramount+. It follows Nate Wright (Ben Giroux), an outspoken sixth-grader with big dreams. Nate aspires to be the “most awesome” kid at school, but his rebellious nature gets in the way. Along with his dysfunctional yet loyal friends, Nate navigates his chaotic suburban life. BIG NATE is a TV-Y7 adaptation of the Lincoln Peirce comic strip of the same name.

BIG NATE fails to stand out in the pantheon of Nickelodeon school comedies.  The mixture of CGI, cardboard, and notebook animation is commendable. Yet, the uneven comedy relies too heavily on “cynical” humor. The characters are either too flat or too unlikeable for their own good. BIG NATE is competently produced, but is devoid of quality writing and relevant life lessons. Movieguide(R) recommends that younger viewers skip this series.

Similar to DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, BIG NATE intermixes middle school problems with juvenile sensibilities. Nate attends Public School 38, a dysfunctional public school with zany and incompetent faculty members. Nate and his three friends invent schemes to further their goals as the “most awesome” kids of all time. For example, Nate tries to ask his crush out, but another boy catches her attention. Nate upstages the rival boy, but the scheme ends in an embarrassing disaster. Nate apologizes to his classmates and learns a nebulous moral lesson.

The largest issue holding BIG NATE back is its flat ensemble of characters. Nate himself is the cookie cutter “rebel with a heart of gold.” He is loyal to his friends and challenges his “evil” teachers. However, Nate is unlikable and blends in with every other “relatable kid” protagonist. He is impulsive and hard to root for. Nate’s friends and school adversaries are also bland archetypes who fail to stand out.

The only character to make a grand impression is Dee Dee (Bryce Charles), Nate’s best female friend. Dee Dee is an aspiring theater major with overconfidence. She is knowledgeable in Broadway history and puts on various disguises for the team. Dee Dee is dorky, but improvises clever solutions to Nate’s opposition. She is dependable, has an endearing personality, and delivers the best jokes on the show. She also learns from her mistakes. In many ways, Dee Dee would be a more suitable protagonist.

In terms of worldview, the series offers tiny doses of humanism. Nate might be driven by ego, but he prioritizes cooperation with his friends. When Team Nate gets caught, they learn to never lie, be true to themselves, or be responsible for spending Nate’s family credit card. BIG NATE “commits” to these lessons on the surface level. However, it prioritizes suiting one’s selfish goals above all else. It rarely challenges Nate’s behavior except for a punchline.

The show’s lack of any moral grounding applies to the adult characters. Nate’s school teachers are psychotic and grossly incompetent. The biggest wimp is Nate’s father Martin Wright. Martin is a single father who lives with his kid son and bratty teen daughter Ellen. Martin is a failed writer with frequent anxiety attacks. He teaches relevant life advice to his children, but is blinded by ego. Martin is a sad man in a sea of sadly written adult characters.

Another warning sign is the occasional gross out moment. BIG NATE deals with popping pimples, sick kids on Valentine’s Day, and a trip to the wilderness. In one story, Nate’s school accidentally eats radioactive pizza. The entire student body turns upside down and becomes a “zombie” horde. Even by TV-Y7 standards, it is not for the faint of heart.

In terms of humor, BIG NATE uses slapstick, cutaway gags, and insane situations. The dialogue is generally weak and the comedic timing is all over the place. There is a “cynical” undertone to a majority of punchlines. PS38’s faculty knows they are incompetent, but they will do anything to upgrade their dingy school. In the first episode, Nate battles a rowdy transfer student in avoiding detention. In the end, the student in question has a criminal record. The only reason he got in was due to the principal ignoring his application. This brand of demented humor is the norm.

The highest praise to be given to BIG NATE is its art direction. The series is 3D animated, but mimics classic stop motion models and sets. The character models are well animated and the production design is colorful. The show is also not afraid to experiment with different mediums. At certain points, the 3D segments will briefly switch to 2D notebook or magazine “cutout” gags. These scenes are full of creative energy and help break up the monotony.

In conclusion, BIG NATE fails to stand out in a sea of middle school centric comedies. The cast is flat and unlikable, the gross humor is appalling, and the “humanistic” lessons are nebulous at best. The constant art style experimentation and Dee Dee’s likable personality are its only saving graces. The series is technically competent, but its lackluster writing refuses to grow. Movieguide® advises caution for older children and adults.

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