Mission against disinformation
Disney series The Mysterious Benedict Society upholds truth claims in a world beset by lies
Most people care about the truth,” says Mr. Benedict at the beginning of The Mysterious Benedict Society, a new series streaming on Disney+ and based on the book by Trenton Lee Stewart. But Mr. Benedict also recognizes how hard it can be for people to love truth when the world distracts them with lies. It’s a timely message for both kids and adults.
The city of Stonetown suffers from something called “the Emergency.” Everything seems to be going wrong, but no one can pinpoint why. Mr. Benedict (Emmy winner Tony Hale) is an eccentric genius living on the edge of town, and he thinks he’s found the source of the Emergency: Someone is sending subliminal messages from a nearby boarding school. These messages sow fear and disinformation into the minds of the people, so Mr. Benedict recruits a team of gifted youngsters to infiltrate the school and find a way to stop the messages. But the school is on an island, meaning the children can rely only on each other while on this dangerous mission.
The four children on the team each have a special talent making them indispensable to the mission’s success. Reynie, the unspoken and somewhat reluctant leader of the group, is a genius when it comes to solving problems. Sticky has perfect recall of everything he sees and reads. Kate, who trained as an acrobat in the circus, carries a bucket filled with items useful for getting the team out of a jam. And Constance—the other three children aren’t exactly sure why Constance is on the team—has a gift for complaining.
The children are the heart of the show, and the young actors give endearing if occasionally stiff performances. The series sticks relatively close to the book, but it expands the storyline of the adults. It’s a welcome change because it allows Hale and Kristen Schaal, who plays Mr. Benedict’s “Number Two,” more time to develop their caring, quirky characters.
Stewart won WORLD’s 2017 Children’s Novel of the Year for The Secret Keepers, and Hale has spoken openly about being a Christian in Hollywood. The new series entertains and instructs in a way consistent with a Christian worldview, at least in the first four episodes. It’s refreshing to find a show promoting the values of honesty, friendship, and bravery in a package the whole family can enjoy. The series, rated TV-PG, contains some action scenes, but nothing violent. And while aspects of the boarding school are a little creepy, it’s not scary.
The book came out in 2007, but The Mysterious Benedict Society seems more relevant now than ever. The setting is midcentury America, so there’s no internet, but when hearing about the Emergency, I couldn’t help but think about the deleterious effects of social media on society—its tendency to amplify unproven claims and make us rude, anxious, and unhappy. The central message of The Mysterious Benedict Society still applies: The world needs more people who love truth.
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