Radio Flyer (film)

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Radio Flyer
Radio flyer dvd cover.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Donner
Produced byLauren Shuler Donner
Written byDavid Mickey Evans
Narrated byTom Hanks
Music byHans Zimmer
CinematographyLászló Kovács
Edited byStuart Baird
  • Stonebridge Entertainment
  • Donner/Shuler-Donner Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
February 21, 1992
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$35 million
Box office$4,651,977

Radio Flyer is a 1992 American drama-fantasy film directed by Richard Donner and written by David Mickey Evans. It stars Lorraine Bracco, John Heard, Elijah Wood, Joseph Mazzello, Adam Baldwin and Ben Johnson. Evans was to make his directorial debut on the film but was replaced by Donner. Michael Douglas and Evans were executive producers. Filming locations included Novato, California, and Columbia Airport in Columbia, California.


Mike observes his two sons fighting, with one insisting that a promise doesn't mean anything. To make them understand that a promise does mean something, he tells them the story of his youth. Mike, his little brother, Bobby, their mother, Mary, and their German Shepherd, Shane, all move to a new town after their father/husband leaves them. There, Mary marries a new man, Jack, who likes the others to call him "The King". Unbeknownst to Mary, the King is an alcoholic who often gets drunk and beats Bobby. The King also repetitively plays Hank Williams’ Jambalaya (On the bayou) over and over again while drunk.

Seeing that Mary has found happiness at last with the King, the two boys are reluctant to tell either her or the police about the abuse. Instead, they try to avoid the King by exploring and having adventures amidst the turmoil and traumatic experiences. After the King beats Bobby so badly that he ends up in the hospital, the King gets bitten on the arm by Shane and is arrested. However, following the death of his mother, the King is released and returns to their house promising never to drink again. Unfortunately, while the boys are at school, the King lied about the promise and nearly kills Shane. In the process, the two devise a plan for Bobby to escape the King once and for all. Mary also starts to catch on to Jack's true nature and, in the end, requests a divorce due to all the times he beat Bobby and for his heavy drinking.

Inspired by the urban legend of a boy named Fisher who attempted to fly away on his bicycle, the two convert their eponymous Radio Flyer toy wagon into an airplane. With it, Bobby flies away, and the King is finally arrested by Officer Daugherty, a friendly and caring police officer that never trusted the King. Though Mike never sees Bobby again, he continues to receive postcards from him from places all over the world.



David Mickey Evans' script for Radio Flyer was a hot property around Hollywood, and Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures started a bidding war around it in November 1989. Warners had eyes on it as a vehicle for veteran director Richard Donner, while Columbia was buying it on behalf of Michael Douglas's production outfit Stonebridge Entertainment, which had a major production deal with the latter studio. Just before Thanksgiving, Columbia gave Evans a huge sum for a first-time Hollywood screenwriter: $1.25 million. The deal also gave Evans the opportunity to direct, even though he had no experience in said field; Douglas believed he had the vision to pull it off. This was the first film Columbia put into production under the ownership of Sony, as well as one of the first films to be greenlit by the studio's new management, led by Peter Guber and Jon Peters.[1][2]

Filming started on June 18, 1990. Under Evans' direction, the film starred Rosanna Arquette as the mother, Tomas Arana as The King, and Luke Edwards and James Badge Dale as the children. The budget was set at $17–18 million after Evans agreed to cut some elaborate effects sequences. However, Stonebridge executives found the dailies disappointing, and after 10 days of filming, Douglas shut down production, at a loss of $5 million. Douglas then recruited Richard Donner as the film's new director. With Evans' blessing, Donner accepted with a $5 million paycheck, while his wife, producer Lauren Shuler Donner came on board. Evans remained on the film as an executive producer. With the major players recast, Radio Flyer resumed production that October. Donner had Evans rewrite the script extensively to find a way to balance escapist fantasy and child abuse without alienating the audience.[1][2]

The film's original ending featured a present-day coda where a now-adult Mike, played by Tom Hanks, takes his children to the National Air and Space Museum, where the Radio Flyer/Plane hybrid is displayed next to the Wright Brothers' flying machine. Test audiences were confused by this ending and re-shoots led to the modern-day prologue and epilogue seen in the final film.[2]


The film opened to mostly mixed to negative reviews from critics and lackluster box office results. It currently holds a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 39 reviews.

Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin both criticized the film for presenting fantasy as a way of escaping child abuse. Said Ebert, "I was so appalled, watching this kid hurtling down the hill in his pathetic contraption, that I didn't know which ending would be worse. If he fell to his death, that would be unthinkable, but if he soared up to the moon, it would be unforgivable—because you can't escape from child abuse in little red wagons, and even the people who made this picture should have been ashamed to suggest otherwise."[3]

Because the film in fact ends with Bobby successfully evading his stepfather forever, viewers (including Ebert himself) have taken to speculating on the "true" ending, assuming that the one presented was a case of an unreliable narrator.


The film is dedicated to the memory of script supervisor Nancy Benta Hansen and uncredited production assistant Simone Fuentes, "whose professionalism and humor we miss."


  1. ^ a b Rosenthal, Donna (October 28, 1990). "Rolling Along, Finally." The Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ a b c Kilday, Gregg (February 28, 1992). "Making Radio Flyer." Entertainment Weekly.
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Radio Flyer Movie Review & Film Summary (1992) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2016-09-11.

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