Little Red Wagon
An inspirational movie based on a true story, “Little Red Wagon” is a well-meaning drama with heart and pluck. From director David Anspaugh, the man behind the iconic films “Hoosiers” and “Rudy,” it may sometimes wander off into treacly TV movie-of-the-week territory. But it’s got its heart in the right place, and several of the performances are quite fine.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Charlie in 2004, a young boy in Tampa named Zach Bonner decided to collect some food and supplies for the people made newly homeless in nearby Punta Gorda, which bore the full brunt of the storm. Not yet 10 years old, Zach was so touched by their plight that he decided no child, anywhere, should be homeless.
What’s a young kid to do about it? As it turns out, found a non-profit foundation, raise huge sums of cash and inspire thousands of people. The movie’s story culminates with Zach’s media-hyped walk from Tampa to Tallahassee to raise awareness about child homelessness. (In real life, Zach continued his walk in subsequent years to Atlanta, then Washington D.C., and then clear across the country.)
Chandler Canterbury plays Zach, and it’s a tough role for any child actor who’s in virtually every scene. But Canterbury tackles it with gumption, his big liquid eyes projecting the empathy that radiates out of his character, even toward strangers. The innate goodness of the kid shines.
Anna Gunn, best known for TV’s “Breaking Bad,” plays Zach’s mom Laurie, a long-suffering single mother trying — largely unsuccessfully, by her own admission — to balance a son who’s a one-boy charity and a 16-year-old daughter, Kelley, who chafes at always playing second fiddle.
Daveigh Chase has a great turn as Kelley, taking a role that could’ve come across as very screechy and juvenile and instead makes identifiable and full of immediacy. Several scenes portraying the clash between mother and daughter are full of energy and tears, and have a hefty sense of authenticity.
The screenplay by Patrick Sheane Duncan lays things out a little too pat, as we can see the peaks and valleys of Zach’s journey coming, and know which turns the movie is going to take long before it steers into them.
There is also a certain type of scene that’s repeated too often, as Zach lays out his bold plans before some individual or group of adults who could prove an impediment, and they immediately cave with offers of assistance and donations.
Paralleling Zach’s journey is that of Margaret Craig and her son Jim (Frances O’Connor and Dylan Matzke), neighbors of the Bonners who move out of their subdivision because of financial problems and end up becoming homeless themselves. It’s a clever storytelling device by Duncan and Anspaugh, showing how dauntingly easy it is to wind up on the streets.
I kept waiting for the two storylines to reconnect, but they never did in a satisfying way.
“Little Red Wagon” is named after Zach’s foundation, which in turn got its moniker from the wagon he pulled around his neighborhood collecting donations. It’s a simple, childlike metaphor for an impulse of absolute purity, and the movie about him.