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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Radio Flyer
Radio Flyer
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // October 12, 2004
List Price: $19.94 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Mike Long | posted October 29, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

A taboo subject is usually a topic that (most) people won't or don't feel comfortable discussing in public. When we hear of a film which tackles a taboo subject, most of us would probably think that it was something of a sexual natures. But, there are many other things out there which most don't want to talk about, one being child abuse. Radio Flyer is a film which tackles child abuse with a mixture of realism, subtlety, and fantasy.

Radio Flyer is set in the late 1960s. Mary (Lorraine Bracco) takes her two sons, Mike (Elijah Wood) and Bobby (Joseph Mazzello) and leaves their New Jersey home when her husband deserts her. They head to California to live with distant relatives. This experiences forces young Mike to mature very quickly and he sees himself as the caretaker of his Mom and Bobby. (This also makes him unusually close to his little brother.) Once in California, Mary meets a man called simply "The King" (Adam Baldwin) and they are soon married. There is only one problem with this: The King is an alcoholic, who verbally abuses both boys and physically abuses Bobby. Knowing that their Mom loves The King and that the family needs him for financial support, the boys don't tell their mother about the abuse.

In order to avoid The King, the boys spend a great deal of time exploring the terrain around their house. There is an airport nearby and Mike notices that Bobby has an odd fixation on flying. During their adventures, they hear a local legend a of kid named Fisher who once attempted to fly and Bobby seems taken with this tale. As the beatings by The King escalate in their severity and frequency, Mike does everything that he can to protect Bobby. But, it appears that Bobby has a plan of his own to end the torment.

Radio Flyer is a rather unique film in the sense that it combines several genres. The bulk of the film is a loving, nostalgic period piece, which examines the wonder of childhood. The story is told through the eyes of Mike and Bobby and we often see the world through their eyes, such as when they mistake a large turtle for a monster. Also, we never fully see The King's face, as he is an anonymous monster stalking the boys. There is an enchanting scene, where the boys act out the seven beliefs of childhood, my favorite being that one obtains super-strength while wearing a cape. Yet, this touching and fun story is mixed with the honestly depressing tale of two children who live in fear of their stepfather. For those in the audience who have lived with an alcoholic or an abusive parent or both, this part of the film will certainly strike a chord. The way that the abuse is portrayed in the film is quite realistic, most notably the boys' decision to hide the episodes from their mother. The bulk of Radio Flyer is played very straight, but the film's last act takes a turn towards the fantastic, this is where it could lose many viewers. The ending borders on science-fiction and is left quite ambiguous, and each viewer will take a different meaning away from the film.

If you can accept the ending, and thus, the entire film, you will find a lot to like in Radio Flyer. The most impressive element in the film is the acting. Veteran director Richard Donner (who stepped, replacing writer David Mickey Evans) coaxes incredible performances from young Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazzello. I'm sure that many felt that Wood should have been nominated for his performances in The Lord of the Rings films. Forget that. The turn given by the then 11-year old Wood in Radio Flyer is excellent. He is in most every scene of the film and admirably displays both the youthful exuberance and the calm seriousness that the role entails. Mazzello is good as well, as he uses his face and a subtle tilt of his head to convey Bobby's dreamy moods. Tom Hanks has a cameo in the film as a grown up Mike and provides narration for the film. The cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs is beautiful. Due to its odd ending and serious subject matter, Radio Flyer isn't for everyone, but the brave will discover a film which effortlessly convey the magic found in childhood.

Video

Radio Flyer soars onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer is good, but it certainly shows some problems. The image is sharp, but there is notable grain in many shots. The transfer shows many minor defects from the source material, such as scratches and black dots. The colors are fairly good, although some scenes look somewhat washed out. Edge-enhancement is quite noticeable throughout the film.

Audio

The DVD carries a Dolby Surround audio track. This track is well-balanced and provides clear and audible dialogue. The stereo effects from the front channels are quite good. The surround effects are discrete and sporadic, but they certainly boost the finale, with musical cues and well-placed sound effects.

Extras

The only special features on the Radio Flyer DVD are bonus trailers. I really wish that Columbia/Tri-Star had included the trailer for Radio Flyer, as I would love to see it again to figure out what got me into the theater to see this in the first place.


When I watch a movie, I do so for escape. And if the film is successful, I will be pulled into its world and have an emotional reaction. Radio Flyer definitely fulfills that goal, as I found it to be both uplifting and gut-wrenching. This effect diminishes with repeat viewings, but there's no denying the power of this little, magical film.
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