Filmed in and around Charleston, Little Red Wagon is based on the true story of Zach Bonner (played by Chandler Canterbury), a young boy who saw firsthand the destruction that Hurricane Charlie left in its wake for the inhabitants of Florida. Feeling a sense of empathy toward the less fortunate, Zach begins soliciting donations for families left homeless by the storm. The outpouring is astonishing, and each new donation seems to increase Zach's passion for civic duty.
Soon, his operation grows to the point that he and his family have to create an official nonprofit organization, naming it the Little Red Wagon Foundation. The name is taken from the wagon that Zach pulls to collect items in his neighborhood. Now able to approach businesses for donations, Zach begins tailoring his campaign toward helping homeless kids, filling backpacks with toys, clean underwear, and toiletries. In order to gain more publicity for his charity and raise awareness for the plight of homeless youth, Zach decides to walk from his home in Tampa to Tallahassee, picking up supporters along the way. His journey is supported by his mother Laurie (Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn) and teen sister Kelley (Big Love's Daveigh Chase).
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why Little Red Wagon is such a bad film. Director David Anspaugh has some true modern classics under his filmography, Hoosiers and Rudy chief among them. Both Gunn and Chase have shown in their television work that they are capable of performing more than capably when given material worthy of their talents. The script isn't the worst thing to ever be put on to a screen.
It seems that the film is hobbled from the beginning by a budget smaller than its ambitions. Although cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. has some beautifully shot films to his credit, including this year's The Master, almost every scene in Wagon appears to have been shot with a $100 camera picked up at a local big-box retailer. If not for the big names associated with the cast, it wouldn't be ridiculous to assume that Little Red Wagon was a student film.
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for the production was in the casting of Zach. Whether it was the direction that Anspaugh wanted to take with the subject or that young star Chandler Canterbury was miscast in the role, Zach is one of the most unlikable protagonists to grace theater screens in quite some time. What begins as an altruistic attempt to help others devolves into a blatant grab for attention. In what may be the most interesting point of the film, Zach's mother asks the young boy if he is truly doing this to help others, or is he hoping to find more television cameras and interviews waiting for him at the end of each day. Zach doesn't have an answer, but it isn't hard to fill in the blanks for him.
The best bit of acting comes in the role of Margaret Craig, performed by extraordinary actress Frances O'Connor (A.I.). When we first meet Mrs. Craig, she and her son Dylan are donating goods to Zach's charity, both to help others and in an effort to minimize the amount they will have to pack up when they move from their large house. Margaret's husband recently died, and soon thereafter Margaret loses her job at a bank branch that closes quickly. The ordeal that Margaret and her son go through is reminiscent of the story of Job; after moving into a small apartment, Margaret soon finds that she can't pay for even that bit of housing. One night they are found sleeping in their car by a policeman that points them in the direction of a homeless shelter. They awake the next morning to find most of their possessions were stolen in the night. It's not long before the duo is shoplifting and dumpster diving in an attempt to feed themselves.
A cast this strong deserves quality material to work with. All three of the starring women have been shown to knock a role out of the park and are more than capable of carrying a film on their own; the script just has to meet them halfway. From the beginning, this property appears to have been hamstrung by a too-small budget and a child actor who delivers a performance equally as uninspiring as the final product of the film. Feel free to watch this if you would like to see the Charleston locales on display. Otherwise, Little Red Wagon is a complete waste of time.