Tom Hanks Project – “Radio Flyer” Review

25 Mar


I was very excited to share this Tom Hanks film with Zack*Radio Flyer was a film I grew up with — I’d guess my mom screened this film with my brother and I four or five times. I hadn’t seen it since I was fairly young, but I remembered Elijah Wood played young Tom Hanks, a horrible song that haunts me to this day, and a little bit of magic in the retelling of a tragic tale.

*I had slightly higher hopes for this one than I did for “One Magic Christmas” and I ended up loving that, and even though this had lots of sappy potential, I was curious.


This is the story of Mikey (Elijah Wood/grown-up Hanks) and Bobby*. Hanks, in a sort of How-I-Met-Your-Mother flashback tale** he’s shown telling to his two sons, tells the story of the summer of 1969, after his younger brother Bobby moved with him, his mom, and their dog Shane to California when their dad ran out on the family. Their mom meets a guy they call The King. At first, he seems to be the answer to all of their problems — he’s got a job that can afford the family a nice little house in the suburbs of a small town (as long as the mom works two shifts waitressing, too). But then, he’s exposed for the abusive alcoholic that he is.

*Bobby is played by the boy from “Jurassic Park” and “The Cure.”

**I don’t know what’s more feasible – that Josh Radnor would become Bob Sagat or that Elijah Wood would become Tom Hanks.


Instead of hurting their mom, the King takes all of his aggression out on Bobby (normally when this song is playing which has made it give me chills every time I hear it), because he’s the smallest and the King is the least afraid of him*. I know this sounds like this would be a super depressing movie — and it’s certainly no walk in the park. But because of the magic of childhood, Mikey and Bobby are mostly able to stay away from the King for the summer, summoning potions** and making wishes and, eventually, building a contraption out of Bobby’s Radio Flyer wagon that will allow Bobby to escape (with their pet turtle, Samson). The movie ends with a question — do you believe the magic, or don’t you? I choose to believe that Bobby escapes and flies in his Radio Flyer, all over the world.

*It’s really infuriating to watch the 4th most famous Baldwin brother get drunk in his garage and beat up his 7 year-old step-son.

**The potion had turtle poop and they left it on the stove in a pressure cooker that exploded and somehow no parents found out about it. 

Laugh out Loud: Zack: 29 Caitlin: 26 There are tons of little delightful moments in this movie, particularly when Shane is involved. This adorable German Shepard dog is his boys’ best friend, and he takes care of Mikey and Bobby in amazing ways. There’s a scene where they’re collecting empty bottles to get some money together for Bobby’s journey, and Shane keeps bringing more bottles…from the already-collected bottles in the store’s alleyway, it turns out. I think if Scooby hadn’t already done so, this turned Zack and I into German Shepard fanatics for life. It’s funnier than I thought it would be, especially considering how dark it is. Hanks finds some funny parts while narrating and the two boys play off each other to great comedic effect.

Comedy: Zack: Caitlin: 6 For a movie with such a serious plot line, I think it balances out well with the silly, sweet, tender moments. I would never bill this movie as “a comedy” to anyone, but since it isn’t one, I’d say the comedy factor of this family drama is up there. Yeah, not a comedy per se, but a lot of genuine laughs. It’s far funnier than some 80s Hanks that was actually trying to be funny.


 Cry: Zack: 0 Caitlin: 4  I stop-started crying four times near the end of the film. I won’t tell you why, because I don’t want to spoil it and I totally, 100% recommend this movie to anyone who has never seen it. But I will say the ending is bittersweet, especially depending on how you take this line from Hanks: “Do you understand now, boys, when I said that history is all in the mind of the teller?” Hold on, I think I’m going to cry again. 

Romantic Interest: Zack: N/A  Caitlin: N/A Hanks has no love interest in this film, so this is not a ratable category. If we’re just going “romantic interest” in the film in general, obviously that’s a 0 (poor mom gets run out on and then ends up with an abusive alcoholic — this woman does not have it easy). But I do think this is one of the first films where we can rate Hanks as a father with A+ marks. He is super sweet with his kids, telling them why promises are so important, and as “young Mikey” aka Elijah, he’s a loving, caring older brother. Yeah, zero romance for Tommy, but this does make me re-evaluate my “why is he never a dad?” thoughts. We only see a scene or two, but he seems to be an incredible dad to his kids, especially considering that his character’s father abandoned him and then he had a physically abusive step dad.


Hanks: Zack: 9  Caitlin: 9 As Zack said, “Why doesn’t Tom Hanks narrate every movie?” I don’t know, but he really should. Given that Tom Hanks is that kind, safe uncle we all want in our lives, trusting him with narrating a script is a safe bet, always. He manages to take a very sad tale of downfalls and infuse that magic only Tom Hanks could: “There are seven lost secret fascinations and abilities. They are that: animals can talk; your favorite blanket is woven from a fabric so mighty, that once pulled over your head, it becomes an impenetrable force field, nothing is too heavy to lift with the aid of a cape; your hand, held forefinger out and thumb up, actually fires bullets; jumping from any height with an umbrella is completely safe; monsters exist and can be both seen an done battle with; and the greatest, most special and regrettable loss of all: the ability to fly.” I mean. Hard to argue with any of that. I feel odd giving him such a high score for a minor role, but he was a wonderful narrator and from the very beginning when he gets all serious about promises and tells the kids to get ready for a story, I was all-in. 

Movie: Zack: 7.5  Caitlin: 8.6 This movie got hated on quite a bit when it came out, and while I do understand it’s not an altogether purely joyful viewing experience because of the themes it addresses, I think it does it in such a way that brings attention to a real, serious issue without losing childhood innocence and magic. I think it’s worth watching, especially once you’re older. I’m conflicted about Radio Flyer. It’s funny and sweet and cares for its characters and despite some issues, it works. I mostly had an issue with the ending. They’re allowed to be vague, since the idea is that Hanks’ narration is more focused on how he wants to remember things than how they actually happened. So what happened to Bobby? As Ebert wrote in his 1 1/2 star review, “Did Bobby fall to his death? Did the cops haul away The King? Did Mom wise up? “Radio Flyer” is a real squirmarama of unasked and unanswered questions.” I don’t know what squirmarama means (because it isn’t a word) and I dothink it’s twice as good as Ebert, but the vague, difficult ending left me a bit unsettled. Still, it was an ideal movie to stay in for the night with on a night Caitlin was sick. We recommend it.


One Response to “Tom Hanks Project – “Radio Flyer” Review”


  1. Introduction to The Tom Hanks Project | rockloveaustin - April 8, 2014

    […] Radio Flyer – 1992 Review […]

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