By Faith Friendly Consumer, Special for USDR
|Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations
|Family Viewing Suitability
|view our criteria
Set in a small Southern California town in the 1940s during World War II, LITTLE BOY is a delightfully poignant, yet powerful faith-driven film that fits into the comedy/drama/war genres and brings to life an imaginative script which stirs the heart and leaves moviegoers emotionally satisfied. Opening in theaters nationwide on April 24th, LITTLE BOY is skillfully directed by Alejandro Monteverde (who co-writes with Pepe Portillo) and is produced by Metanoia Films, led by Eduardo Verástigui (BELLA, THE BUTTERFLY CIRCUS), Leo Severino and Monteverde.
With high production values and a suspenseful storyline that is both nostalgic and beautifully fantastical, LITTLE BOY is the story of an undersized, eight-year-old boy who learns about faith and God’s sovereignty as he does everything in his to bring his father back from the Pacific theater of World War II alive. The cast is very strong and features an impressive performance by young Jacob Salvati as Pepper Busbee, the “little boy.” Other stars include Michael Rapaport as the father, James Busbee; Emily Watson as the mother, Emma Busbee; David Henrie as the older brother, London Busbee; Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Hashimoto; Kevin James as Dr. Fox; Tom Wilkinson as a Catholic priest, Fr. Oliver; and a cameo appearance by Verástigui as Fr. Crispin.
Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance
Although LITTLE BOY does not include a presentation of the Gospel or make overt reference to Jesus, it nevertheless delivers a heartwarming message of faith and family that underscores God’s sovereignty. The question of whether God hears and answers prayers is raised and the biblical teaching on moving mountains with faith the size of a mustard seed is central to the story. Throughout LITTLE BOY, there’s a tension between child-like innocence to faith and adult skepticism, with differing worldviews on display.
Beyond the biblical view that nothing is impossible with faith—including bringing a loved one home from war—LITTLE BOY affirms that God is the mover who can be moved to do things we ask for in faith. And biblical teaching on feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, visiting the sick and those in prison, clothing the naked, friending the outcast and burying the dead are highlighted. Importantly, Pepper learns that faith falls flat if you hold hatred in your heart.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships
The characters and their relationships in LITTLE BOY are grounded in family, church and the local community. Pepper is crazy about his father and their loving father-son bond is full of adventure and fun. James cares for his wife and two sons by running an auto mechanic shop with older son London, and they attend church together as a family. The parish priests play a positive role in the lives of the community and the small town they live in is close-knit.
When James goes off to fight in World War II in place of London, who fails his medical clearance, Pepper’s world is turned upside down. All he wants to do is grow into his father’s shoes and he immediately begins to plot ways to get his dad home safely. Meanwhile, London’s relationships with his mother and Pepper become strained as he takes his anger over not being able to fight in the war out on Hashimoto, a local man of Japanese heritage who has just been released from an internment camp.
Here, LITTLE BOY tackles historical issues of prejudice against Japanese-Americans during the war head-on as Pepper learns to navigate a world of mixed messages about faith. Stepping in as a spiritual mentor, Fr. Oliver encourages Pepper to build his faith by walking out a list of biblical admonitions. And Pepper learns to stand up for himself and his faith in the face of bullying and skepticism. Along the way, Pepper’s relationships with Fr. Oliver and Hashimoto deepen as his faith matures, and Hashimoto’s heart begins to soften. Eventually, London and others in the town are forced to confront their racial prejudice, with some making good choices that lead to healing and forgiveness and others making poor choices.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations
While some moviegoers may see some details presented in LITTLE BOY as being ritualistic—including the recitation of Hail Marys in Latin and the list of action steps Fr. Oliver gives Pepper to build his faith—this film offers a moving look at faith distilled to the level that a boy can comprehend. For example, when the travelling magician, Ben Eagle, chooses the impressionable young Pepper from the audience as a prop for his show—captivating him with a magic trick—Pepper believes that he has the power to do the impossible, including bring his father home. Here, Fr. Oliver clarifies that Ben Eagle’s powers are mere fantasy, but God is the true power behind the things we ask for in faith.
Beyond this, LITTLE BOY depicts the Busbee family in church, and shows a father going off to war in place of his drafted son—echoing Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for us. The farewell scene when James boards the bus to join the military effort is heart-wrenching, as are other scenes that unfold involving the last item on Pepper’s faith-building list—bury the dead.
Central to the storyline are the relationships between Pepper and London, and Pepper and Hashimoto. Although London’s anger and prejudice toward Japanese people leads him to drink and lose his way, faith-compatible consequences for his poor choices are shown, and London eventually realizes he was wrong. Hashimoto not only has to deal with racism from London and the local townspeople, but he must also confront his hard heart and consider Pepper’s deepening faith. The relationship between him and Pepper is a special one: He helps Pepper tick off the items on his faith list and encourages him with a Japanese-style “David and Goliath” story about a short-statured young samurai.
Family Viewing Suitability
At 100 minutes in length, LITTLE BOY is rated PG-13 for some mature thematic material and violence, including battle scenes and images from World War II, a house that is vandalized, alcohol abuse, and a character that is beaten and hospitalized. Pepper is bullied for his small size, his faith, his growing friendship with Hashimoto and his faith-building list—culminating in a fight scene in which he learns to stand up for himself. Other mature topics include the internment camps in which many Japanese-Americans were held and the racist attitudes of fear and prejudice held by many at that time.
Despite these cautions, LITTLE BOY offers a captivating story that is rich in texture and emotion—infused with boyhood fantasy and hints of Latin American magical realism. The challenging thematic issues are navigated beautifully and belief triumphs over skepticism.
If you’re looking for a joyful and uplifting movie that tugs at your heart and stays in your head long after the final credits roll, LITTLE BOY is for you. The love between father and son is fierce and glorious, and the friendship between Pepper and Hashimoto is beautiful. With high production values, a wonderfully fresh cast, and a creative, suspenseful script that builds to two climactic moments, LITTLE BOY delivers a delightful detour to another time and place—and teaches us the wonderful lesson that child-like faith can, indeed, move mountains.