"I was 8 years old. My dad was my only friend. My partner," Pepper Flynt Busbee narrates in the opening moments of Little Boy. "I wanted to be just like him and do everything he did. And everything we did became a great adventure."
"Partner," Dad would say, "do you believe we can do this?"
"I believe we can do this!" Pepper would respond every time.
And so they did.
James Busbee soon finds himself in the midst of a not-so-imaginary jungle battle in the Philippines. And his family is left behind to face battles of its own.
Emma fights against loneliness, not to mention the attentions of a local physician, Dr. Fox, whose inappropriate interest isn't hard to spot. London bludgeons away at booze, bitterness and his mechanical ineptitude as he tries to take over his father's garage. And Pepper? He stands toe-to-toe with Dr. Fox's son, Freddy, a thuggish lad with a penchant for mocking Pepper's small stature.
London's convinced they'll never see their father again. But Pepper, thanks to Dad's fortifying influence, is a true believer in a better outcome. He knows their father is coming home.
Pepper's faith is further bolstered by the small California coastal town's Catholic priest, Father Oliver, who encourages the "little boy" (as he's known) to keep believing, to keep praying for his father to return to home and for the war to end.
And believe Pepper does.
At Father Oliver's encouragement, Pepper sets aside both personal and corporate aversions to the "enemy" and befriends an aging Japanese American named Hashimoto. (The much-despised man lives outside town and is discriminated against by pretty much everyone except Father Oliver.) As Pepper gets to know Hashimoto, he hears his story of coming to America many decades ago. Hashimoto considers himself an American and loves his country, despite the ill treatment he receives. And Hashimoto and Pepper's friendship pays relational dividends for both of them, as each has a chance to help and defend the other.
Dr. Fox hints that he's interested in pursuing a relationship with Emma Busbee should James not return home. Pepper watches a black-and-white episode of a Ben Eagle serial that shows a woman in a shoulder- and cleavage-revealing dress.
James is seen in the middle of a firefight in the jungle that has already killed quite a few soldiers. (We see their dead bodies on the ground.) Later, as a POW, his camp is bombed. (We see several POWs shot, either wounded or killed.) There's also footage of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. And Pepper has a dream in which he's walking through the ruins. We see bandaged soldiers in hospitals.
Pepper's harassed, chased and choked by bullies. (And eventually he stands up for himself, fighting back against Freddy.) Hashimoto is the victim of escalating harassment. His house is vandalized, broken into and ransacked. He himself is beaten and threatened with death. (He ends up unconscious and bandaged in the hospital.) London puts a shotgun to Hashimoto's head. (But Pepper's older brother ultimately does the right thing and helps Hashimoto, even though by doing so he risks his own future.)
DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT
London deals with his disappointment and disillusionment with what's happened to him and his family by drinking. We see him swig from a bottle several times; one scene takes place in a bar where people drink and smoke. London drives (with Pepper) after he's been drinking.
Pepper has learned about believing, in a general sense, from his loving father, who's shown him in his imaginative stories that nothing is impossible. So when faced with an impossible situation in the real world, Pepper does exactly what his father taught him: He shouts out, "I believe we can do this!"
Pepper's faith is clearly not sophisticated or even well informed. But it is pure and full of hope even as others doubt.
That's the gist of what Father Oliver says to Hashimoto when the Japanese man takes his friend to task for encouraging a "desperate child" to keep on praying. "What if his father dies?" Hashimoto asks. "Then [God] will help him through it," Father Oliver wisely says. Father Oliver knows he's taking a risk by encouraging the boy to believe. But he seems to understand the even greater risks of discouraging the lad's faith, too.
Little Boy, then, can certainly serve as a solid (and delightfully entertaining!) launching pad for discussions about what it means to believe. It also powerfully addresses the way we (should) treat those we think are our enemies.
"These reviews are meant to help parents determine whether a movie is appropriate for their children, and are not an endorsement by Focus on the Family Singapore."
This review was adapted from Plugged In: the entertainment guide your family needs to make family appropriate decisions through movie reviews, book reviews, TV reviews, and more.