A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Little Boy is a period drama about a smaller-than-average boy who believes that if he finishes a "magic list" of good deeds, he can miraculously bring his father back from World War II. There are some scenes of violence, including newsreel footage of WWII and sequences set during the war (including in a Japanese POW camp), plus sequences in which a group of men harass and beat up a Japanese American out of anger and prejudice. Language ranges from insults ("idiot," "midget") to WWII-era racial epithets ("Jap," "yellow hide," "Buddha head"), but the themes and messages -- from the power of family to the beauty of the father-son bond -- are positive and age appropriate for older tweens.
What's the story?
LITTLE BOY is the story of Pepper Busbee (Jakob Salvati), a sweet kid in O'Hare, California, who's always been far tinier than his peers. But Pepper doesn't care that he's 8 years old and only 39 inches tall, because his father, James (Michael Rapaport), is his best friend, and they go on epic imaginary adventures together. When the Americans enter World War II, Pepper's older brother, London (David Henrie), tries to enlist but is medically disqualified for having flat feet, so their father goes instead. Pepper starts to believe he has miraculous powers to bring his father home and gets help from a local priest (Tom Wilkinson), who gives Pepper a list of good deeds to complete. One of the deeds is to befriend Mr. Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a local Japanese American who deals daily with threats and harassment. Despite the ridicule of his classmates and the skepticism of the community, Pepper's "magic list" begins to seem like the real thing.
Is it any good?
Little Boy has general-audience appeal, particularly for families longing for some good, old-fashioned Americana. Director Alejandro Monteverde (Bella) is committed to making Catholic faith-based films, and this one is unlike many overly preachy evangelical offerings. Pepper is reminiscent of a young Owen Meany -- or Simon Birch -- a small person who's capable of big miracles through his faith. Little Pepper's love for his father, who took him to plenty of matinees about swashbuckling heroes, is the movie's driving force, and that father-son bond is undeniably beautiful.
As Pepper goes on his quest to fulfill his list (shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, etc.), he gets to know Mr. Hashimoto better and realizes there's much more to him than the angry men (including his brother) shouting racial epithets could know. The movie occasionally goes overboard with sentimentality, and young Salvati can swing from adorable to treacly, but the story is still a lovely tribute to the power of friendship, faith, and family.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Little Boy's messages. How does it depict the issues of faith and family? Why is Pepper so sure his list will bring his father home?
Since Pepper was himself bullied, why do you think it's easy for him to call Mr. Hashimoto names? What does Pepper learn about pre-judging others?
Pepper and Mr. Hashimoto have a unique friendship. What do they teach each other?
Compare this movie to others about kids living through war time. What do they have in common? How are they different?
- In theaters: April 24, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: August 18, 2015
- Cast: Emily Watson, David Henrie, Kevin James, Michael Rapaport
- Director: Alejandro Monteverde
- Studio: Open Road Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some mature thematic material and violence
Themes & Topics
For kids who love drama
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.