“Little Red Wagon” strives to inspire

Catastrophes move many to tears and they move others to action. In 2004, Hurricane Charley moved eight-year-old Zach Bonner to help. Using his beat-up toy wagon, he went throughout his Tampa, Florida, neighborhood to collect clothes, food, water, and miscellaneous items for those left homeless by the storm. Inspired by true events, Phase 4 Film’s “Little Red Wagon” stars Chandler Canterbury, Anna Gunn, Daveigh Chase and Frances O’Connor.  An initiative of The Philanthropy Project – an ambitious non-profit initiative funded by the John Templeton Foundation – the film is written by Patrick Sheane Duncan (“Mr. Holland’s Opus”) and directed by David Anspaugh (“Hoosiers,” “Rudy”).

Little, red-headed Zach (Canterbury), living in Tampa with his realtor mother Laurie (Gunn) and his 16-year-old sister Kelley (Chase), is your average kid. Until 2004, when he felt moved to help those left homeless by Hurricane Charley. After printing and handing out flyers to his neighbors, he is surprised by the large amount of contributions. Emboldened by the response – and the interest of the local evening news – he is inspired to continue helping homeless children. After founding a non-profit organization, he solicits donations to put together “Zach Packs,” backpacks filled with food, toiletries, clothes and a toy.

Zach comes up with the idea to raise awareness of homelessness by walking from Tampa to the state capital, Tallahassee. His mother is against it as is his sister, who feels increasingly resentful of the attention Zach is getting from their mother and from others. Zach plows ahead and, when he receives donations and the loan of an RV from the Lazydays Partners Foundation, Laurie gives in and agrees to support her son in this venture.

As a side story, the filmmakers weave in the inspired-by-real-life story of Margaret Craig (O’Connor) and her son, Jim (Dylan Matzke), who have been left financially devastated after the death of their husband/father. After Margaret’s employer closes down, the Craigs’ life spirals out of control as they go from selling their home, to living in a cheap apartment, to living in their car and various homeless shelters.

The film looks and sounds good. The acting is natural and believable. The main characters are allowed to be human, with family flaws that punctuate the action. It is heartfelt and earnest, and perhaps that’s the problem. It’s just a little too earnest at times, as if it is trying too hard. The story is intriguing enough by itself, but the script just felt contrived. From the first, it’s obvious that “Little Red Wagon” is agenda-driven. The filmmakers are driving you to a response. While that response is admirable – to reach out to those less fortunate – I kept waiting for an altar call or an offering basket to be passed.

 Rated PG for, “thematic elements and some language,” “Little Red Wagon” is approved by the Dove Foundation and is the winner of the Heartland Award.