By Ethan Sapienza
The idea that audiences are highly impressionable goes back to Thomas Edison, who believed a film’s content must be closely monitored so as not to be offensive or riddled with misinformation. This is somewhat true, and is a sentiment (fear) that many still find to be of great importance today (see: “Selma”). This is speaking in general terms though, assuming an audience containing most if not all age groups. Kid’s films, on the other hand, are specifically meant for an easily influenced audience, mostly void of potentially scarring material like sex and violence, while containing life lessons of good and evil. When considered in this light, Alejandro Monteverde’s “Little Boy” is truly terrifying, given its incredible misunderstanding of war and the 1940s.
Set during World War Two in a coastal town in California, “Little Boy” follows the adventures of Pepper ‘Little Boy’ Busbee (Jakob Salvati), whose short height makes him a laughing stock among fellow children, though his will to bring his father (Michael Rapaport) home from war has no limits. At least, that’s what the film tries to market as its main message. It’s understandable that “Boy” would mark its main character by his physical shortcomings given its stance on obesity, which is very clearly associated with evil. The illustrious Kevin James plays the town doctor who attempts to replace Rapaport while he is at war, and his son (an equally large Matthew Miller) is Pepper’s main bully. Neither wrongdoing is given a morality or a lesson; simply a smacking that seems to shrug “fat people are stupid and mean”.
“Boy’s” improper teachings do not stop there. Pepper is told by Father Oliver (a too-good-for-this-movie Tom Wilkinson) that good deeds will bring his father home, one of them chiefly being befriending the town ‘Jap’ Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Pepper’s brother London (David Henrie) and the drunken Col. Bob (Toby Huss) take issue with such an endeavor, as Hashimoto is the enemy. This debacle is meant to teach a lesson on racism, yet it approaches it in a very specific and narrow-minded sense. It solely looks at it in terms of war, where agitation is heightened, and the main embodiment of racism, Bob, is fueled by his grief over the loss of his son at Pearl Harbor, not an innate hatred for a human being’s (racial) difference.
This is far from a proper instruction on racism, and is made all the more painful and ironic given the film’s idiotic sentimentality for the 1940s. Glossy photography and overly saturated imagery paint a nostalgic picture. Last I checked, racism, segregation and sexism were rather problematic in the ’40s which is evident in “Boy” through its utter ignorance, where there is not a single black character and every female role is subjugated to knitting and worrying.
Other grave flaws and mistakes include introducing the destruction of the Atomic Bomb though treating it as an afterthought, equating faith with childhood innocence and arguing that all one needs is belief in god, acting that is more synonymous with cardboard cutouts than real human action and interaction, a wonderful unawareness of PTSD, and a subplot involving alcoholism that gets completely overlooked.
To have a bad kid’s movie can be fine, since the target audience doesn’t have the most formed or mature taste. To have one that is highly manipulative in instructing horribly incorrect life lessons is a pure crime. I sincerely hope no one sees “Little Boy.”
Ethan Sapienza is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org