White Bird: A Wonder Story Footage Reaction: An Inspirational Spin-Off, Set In The Past [CinemaCon 2022]

CinemaCon is almost at an end, and our own Ben Pearson has been bringing us descriptions of the footage from upcoming films that are being shown to distributors and press. Next up is "White Bird: A Wonder Story," which is set in the same universe as the 2017 film "Wonder" starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay. The original film was based on the 2012 novel of the same name by R.J. Palacio about a 10-year-old boy named Auggie (Tremblay) with facial differences from Treacher Collins syndrome. Palacio has written another book called "Auggie and Me," with stories from the point of view of other characters like Auggie's bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar), and a graphic novel called "White Bird: A Wonder Story" (also featuring Julian), which this film is based on.

In the story, Julian gets a visit from his Grandmère from Paris (played by Helen Mirren in the film) who was a child in Nazi-occupied France. She tells the story of how she went into hiding, helped by a young man from her school, who took a huge risk in doing so. Together they find love and compassion. 

Starring Helen Mirren and Gillian Anderson

In the "White Bird" footage, we first see Augie (Jacob Tremblay) from the original film "Wonder," wearing the iconic astronaut helmet. Audiences are reminded that "Augie can't change the way he looks," and the story shifts to Julian, Augie's bully from "Wonder." He has been expelled from his old school for being cruel to Augie, and now he's the new kid trying to fit in at a private school. 

Helen Mirren's character of Grandmère is telling Julian a story to help teach him a lesson about human kindness. Audiences see a young version of her character, Sara. She's an artist. A boy she likes looks at her art and says, "These are really good ... for a Jew," and then he slams her book shut. A Nazi flag unfurls against a building. By now, the setting and themes for the bulk of the story are abundantly clear.

But it's not all grim: another young boy befriends the young Sara in a movie theater. "How'd you like to go to New York tonight?" he asks her. She says, "Sure." "Open your eyes," he says. Then we see a sort of New York-set film playing on the screen, transporting them away. Sadly, a teen Nazi beats up the boy who befriended Sara. "You forget many things in life, but you never forget kindness," an older Sara (Mirren) says to Julian. The final shot is a young Sara kissing the boy. 

"White Bird" is a familiar historical drama, with sweeping music and inspirational themes. The setting is France, and Sara is a young Jewish girl living under Nazi occupation. We can clearly see that Grandmère is telling Julian the story because of his bullying of Augie, and trying to teach him a lesson about kindness. In terms of the story, this is a pretty significant departure from the original film "Wonder," but many of the same themes — kindness, perseverance, and the human spirit — are present.

Gheisar will reprise the role of Julian for the new film, and Ariella Glaser ("Radioactive") will play a young Sara. Orlando Schwerdt ("True Story of the Kelly Gang") will play the boy who helps Sara, also named Julian. Gillian Anderson ("The Crown") will play Julian's mother Vivienne. 

"White Bird: A Wonder Story" will be directed by Marc Forster, with a script adaptation from mark Bomback ("War for the Planet of the Apes"). "Wonder" producers David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman will return for "White Bird," with cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser ("Christopher Robin").

"White Bird: A Wonder Story" will hit theaters on September 16, 2022.