“We carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness.” says R.J. Palacio, the author of New York Times bestseller Wonder on which the movie by the same title is based. The book and Oscar-winning actress Julia Roberts’ new life-changing movie ‘Wonder’ tell the inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman. Born with facial differences that have initially prevented him from going to a mainstream school, Auggie becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade.
The movie follows Auggie’s first year in school from his perspective and that of those around him. While it discourages bullying, the movie encourages seeing others beyond external appearances, having quality friendships, and showing compassion. It is a family movie but there is some brief, mostly light foul language.
As his family, his new classmates, and the larger community all struggle to find their own compassion and acceptance, Auggie’s extraordinary journey unites them all and proves you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out. The movie Wonder is released in movie theaters Friday, November 17th.
It is a delightful, entertaining, uplifting movie that is suitable for older children through adults. Oscar-winning actress Julia Roberts stars as Auggie’s mother, Oscar nominee Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris) as Auggie’s father, Izabela Vidovic (Homeland) as Auggie’s sister Via, Emmy winner Mandy Patinkin as Auggie’s school principal, and award-winning actor Jacob Tremblay (The Book of Henry) as Auggie. This star-studded cast gives endearing performances.
Todd Lieberman producer for Wonder and co-owner of Mandeville Films and Television, is one of the leading producers in the entertainment industry today. Since its founding in 1995, Mandeville Films has produced feature films that have grossed more than $2.5 billion in domestic box-office receipts making his Disney-based company, Mandeville Films, one of the most profitable and respected production labels in the entertainment industry. With a slate of films that cover a wide variety of genres, their movies are often anchored by character-driven stories with universal, often uplifting themes. A recent example is Lieberman’s Disney’s live-action retelling of Beauty and the Beast.
Under the Mandeville banner, Lieberman also produced The Muppets, starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams and Walter, the newest Muppet. The Muppets was one of the best-reviewed films of 2011 and earned the Academy Award® for “Best Song.” Mandeville also produced the next “Muppet” movie, Muppets Most Wanted. Mandeville also executive produced Insurgent and Allegiant, part of the Divergent movie series. Mandeville has a first look deal with Disney, which has been the company’s home for over 20 years in Hollywood.
Lieberman is a member of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences and a judge for the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Todd is also a member of the Television Academy and a Producer’s Guild mentor, as well as an active member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization. Todd Lieberman is known for producing character-driven stories with universal, often uplifting themes.
Sonoma Christian Home presents a delightful, inspiring, and exclusive interview with producer Todd Lieberman. SCH Editor At Large Dr. Diane Howard reports.
SCH: What drew you to this project?
TL: In a single sitting, my partner and I read the book after it was just published. We both have kids. After reading the book, We felt better about humanity, better out of the book than in. We liked the Dr. Wayne Dyer precepts, Choose Kind.
SCH: Tell us about the primary themes of the movie.
TL: Significant themes include the importance being kind and nice to all, knowing that all are going through something difficult and knowing there is a reason for bullying.
SCH: Does the movie address any critical issues in our culture?
TL: All ages are inundated with bullying. It is pervasive. We need an antidote.
SCH: How are Auggie and his family members role models?
TL: A successful family unit is modeled in the book. However, each person has their own issues. The special needs child gets attention and the sibling is initially overlooked. Auggie’s sister, Via, is one of my favorite characters and storylines.
SCH: In what ways can friendship be transforming?
TL: Auggie’s friendship with Jack is a beautiful story, even if Jack bends at first to peer pressure. Kids need friends. They succeed more with friends. Jack shows bravery to overcome peer pressure to be a friend with Auggie, and then others follow Jack’s bravery.
SCH: Explain for us the transforming power of kindness.
TL: People who have seen the film have reacted by becoming involved with the Choose Kind Movement. They want to do something kind, nice. For example, kindness is multiplied as students are nice to teachers and then teachers are nice. People want to know that there is kindness in humanity and that there is friendliness rather than hostility is our world.
SCH: How do you hope this movie will affect our culture?
TL: It is good to see that the film business can be well-meaning. Eight million copies of this book have been sold, showing that people want stories and books like this.
SCH: What is the significance of the title?
TL: Wonder means awe, admiration, wonderment, fascination, surprise, astonishment, amazement… Palacio wrote Wonder after an incident where she and her three-year-old son were waiting in line to buy ice cream. Her son noticed a girl with facial birth deformities. Because she feared he would react badly, Palacio attempted to remove her son from the situation so as not to upset the girl or her family but ended up worsening the situation. Then back in the car, the Natalie Merchant’s song “Wonder” on the radio made her realize that the incident could teach society a valuable lesson. Palacio was inspired by Merchant’s lyrics and she began writing her book Wonder. Many saw this event as an act of God.
SCH: What do children teach us about the importance of wonder?
TL: There is the story of five-year-old children being asked what a dot of chalk was on a board. They had creative, imaginative answers all over place. When adults were asked about the dot, they said it was a dot of chalk. Children see through different lenses of imagination. We all need to access our inner child.
SCH: How does this movie encourage teaching kids about good character?
TL: It is required reading in many schools. Families are reading it together. It sparks many layered discussions.
SCH: How does this movie show that all children have special needs?
TL: It shows that everybody has special needs and that all have masks. It encourages empathy for everyone’s special needs.
The story of a 10-year-old boy with facial differences provides a multifaceted look at what it means to be human in the film adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s bestseller Wonder. Golden Globe nominee Jacob Tremblay (Room) performs the one-of-a-kind role of Auggie Pullman, whose birth defects and multiple surgeries have kept him out of school until the fifth grade
Thrust into the brave new world of the 5th grade, Auggie steps into an unexpected journey. All Auggie wants is to be an ordinary kid, but his sister keeps telling him, you can’t be ordinary when you were born to stand out. He first has solace inside a space helmet, but now he must face a whole universe of gawking kids who don’t yet know how to face him back. Auggie’s fifth grade year is funny, tough and beautiful. Auggie and all around him are transformed by friendship, courage and the everyday choice to be kind to everyone in your path.
When Auggie’s parents enroll him in the 5th grade at Beecher Prep, it’s a new realm of science labs and classrooms; gossip, bullies and threats, but also of achievement and friends. Auggie’s schoolmates are each multi-faceted characters with a unique point of view They don’t have the benefit of knowing him as his family does. They have to figure him out in their own ways. They do so through the prisms of their own unique experiences and they each positively develop as a result.
“The book has sparked international anti-bullying campaigns,” notes Lieberman. “One of the most important things is that the story explores the many different ways people get bullied. Emotional bullying is a big deal to me, and it’s one of the reasons I really responded to the book. Bad behavior has been going on forever, but with social media you now have people treating others unfairly on an even wider spectrum, so the need for these kinds of stories is more timely than ever.”
Palacio now speaks with kids around the country about bullying as part of the Choose Kind movement, which started in response to the book. Thousands have signed her Choose Kind pledge. She says it helps to remind kids that the attitude they have now towards others will affect them their whole lives. She says, “When I talk with kids, we talk about how you would want to be remembered 80 years from now. Do you want to be remembered for moments of unkindness? Or do you want to be remembered for being the person who was brave enough to go over to the new kid in class and make friends? That’s when kids start to get it, when they start to see what they do even in a small way really, really matters for a long time.”
However, Palacio says that much as her book is anti-bullying that alone is not enough. She hopes the book and now the movie will inspire everyone to be proactive and to take the one extra step to give someone a boost or a helping hand. “Sometimes it doesn’t take much at all to make a huge impact,” she points out. “The best part about small acts is that you never know when you might actually be saving someone’s life.” Palacio notes that the operative word in the Choose Kind movement is choose. She concludes: ““You can’t really mandate kindness. What you can do is inspire people to see and feel what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes.”
Wonder by Natalie Merchant
Doctors have come from distant cities, just to see me
Stand over my bed, disbelieving what they’re seeing
They say I must be one of the wonders
Of God’s own creation
And as far as they see, they can offer
Newspapers ask intimate questions, want confessions
They reach into my head to steal, the glory of my story
They say I must be one of the wonders
Of God’s own creation
And as far as they see, they can offer
Ooo, I believe, fate, fate smiled
And destiny laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience, and with faith
She’ll make her way, she’ll make her way
People see me I’m a challenge to your balance …
To learn more about this author, please visit Dr. Diane Howard