‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’: What Is the Disney+ Series About?

The Mysterious Benedict Society just premiered on Disney+. Disney already brings a high pedigree to material. This series is an adaptation of the books by Trenton Lee Stewart. If you aren’t familiar with Stewart’s books you may want to know what the new show is about. 

Mysterious Benedict Society: Tony Hale as Curtain
Tony Hale | Diyah Pera/Disney

Showbiz Cheat Sheet is here to help. We spoke with writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi who adapted the book. They filled us in on The Mysterious Benedict Society.

‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’ is about kids saving the world 

At basics, The Mysterious Benedict Society is about kids trying to save the world. Mr. Benedict (Tony Hale) enlists the most gifted children he’s tested to help him solve The Emergency. Benedict explains to the kids how The Emergency is spreading disinformation. He hopes they can bring back empathy. 

Yes, on a human level, it’s about the values of, in some ways the countercultural values o,f extreme empathy and extreme kindness and extreme clear-eyedness about other people’s humanity. And also, in the face of, in the book and show and in the world, a plague of anxiety and anxiety that is a snowball effect. And really investigating, trying to find the core values that you can grasp onto in a sea of disinformation conflicting information to hold onto truth is difficult. We did want to make a show that is about people who are really committed to the truth and committed to finding it and committed to holding onto it even when there’s a massive technology of language that has been developed to make that very difficult. 

Phil Hay, interview with Showbiz Cheat Sheet, 6/8/21

Nobody believes in the Emergency

One of Mr. Benedict’s big problems is convincing the rest of the world The Emergency is real. He tells the kids, “Proof is useless unless it’s proof of something people already want to believe.” That’s a new articulation of the themes from the book.

Disney+ series The Mysterious Benedict Society cast gathers at Mr. Benedict's Institute
L-R: Ryan Hurst, Emmy Deoliveira, Mystic Inscho, Seth Carr and Marta Timofeeva | Diyah Pera/Disney

“I believe that was something that we said and added,” Hay said. “Trenton’s book came out in 2007. These ideas that are in the book are very deeply of today and you could argue accelerated even more than when he was writing it. But yeah, we took it in a comic way in our story but it’s the difficulty of someone, Mr. Benedict, to convince the world there’s something nefarious going on. It’s very, in the world of Benedict and in our world, it’s very hard to convert people to your argument in some ways. We take it in a comic way in the show but there’s an underpinning of serious underneath it all.”

‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’ is almost like ‘They Live’ for kids 

In 1988, the movie They Live told of a secret alien invasion using subliminal messages in ads and television. The only way you could see the truth was to wear special sunglasses. That R-rated movie was for adults, but Manfredi and Hay agree that The Mysterious Benedict Society also deals with a conspiracy that only a few characters can see.

“It’s so funny that you mention They Live because it’s a movie that we reference a lot ourselves,” Manfredi said. “I will say that that really long fight is something that we talk about. It relates to the show in some ways because I think one of the things we love to do is if something is going on for an uncomfortably long time, can we make it go on for a little bit longer to make it that much funnier? Can we sit in that discomfort of length a little bit longer?”

Mysterious Benedict Society: Mr. Benedict reads a book outside a tent
Tony Hale | Diyah Pera/Disney

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The Mysterious Benedict Society is an entertaining children’s adventure show, first and foremost. But if it can also be about something relevant, Hay will be happy. 

What’s so interesting about the modern world is almost anything that you put out could be easily flipped to be the opposite of what you intended. Because of those ways that people look at things, someone can look at something that you intended one way and it’s completely impactful in a different way. So it’s always a search for what are the bedrock values? What can we stand behind period? It’s there in the book and it’s there in the show. No matter how people interpret anything else, the bedrock value that empathy is important, that kindness is important, that caring for other people and not harming them is important.

Phil Hay, interview with Showbiz Cheat Sheet, 6/8/21