It was released on February 21, 1992 by Columbia Pictures.
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
A man named Mike (Tom Hanks) observes his two sons fighting about a promise and Mike tells them a story from his childhood to make them understand how much a promise means.
A young Mike (Elijah Wood), his younger brother Bobby (Joseph Mazzello), his mother Mary (Lorraine Bracco) and his German Shepherd, Shane move to a new town after his father leaves the family.
After moving to the town, Mary meets & marries a new man named Jack (Adam Baldwin) (also known as "The King") who (unbeknownst to Mary) is an alcoholic who physically abuses Bobby.
Seeing that their mother is happy with "The King", Mike and Bobby keep quiet about the abuse & escape from it by having adventures. They later come up with a plan to help Bobby escape from "The King". Inspired by the urban legend of a boy named Fisher who attempted to fly away on his bicycle, Mike and Bobby convert their Radio Flyer toy wagon into an airplane.
After building their makeshift airplane, Bobby flies away. Even though Mike never sees his brother again, he still receives postcards from him from various locations around the world.
- Elijah Wood as Mike Wright
- Joseph Mazzello as Bobby Wright, Mike's younger brother
- Tom Hanks as Older Mike/Narrator
- Lorraine Bracco as Mary Wright, Mike & Bobby's mother
- John Heard as Jim Daugherty
- Adam Baldwin as Jack "The King" Marshall, Mike & Bobby's evil stepfather
- Ben Johnson as Geronimo Bill
- Garette Ratliff as Chad
- Thomas Ian Nicholas as Ferdie
David Mickey Evans' script for the film was a hot property around Hollywood, and Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures started a bidding war around it in November 1989.
Warner Bros had eyes on the project as a vehicle for veteran director Richard Donner, while Columbia was buying it on behalf of Michael Douglas' 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 (which was led by Peter Guber and Jon Peters.)
Filming first began on June 18, 1990. The original cast consisted of Rosanna Arquette (as the mother), Tomas Arana (as "The King") and Luke Edwards & James Badge Dale (as Mike and Bobby).
The film's budget was set at $17-18 million after Evans agreed to cut some elaborate effects sequences. However, Stonebridge executives found it disappointing and after ten days of filming, Douglas shut down production at a loss of $5 million. After that, Douglas recruited Richard Donner as the new director for the film. 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.
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.
The test audiences were confused by this ending and re-shoots that led to the modern day prologue and epilogue seen in the final film.
"Radio Flyer" opened at #9 at the box office, grossing $1,932,595 during its opening weekend. Domestically, it grossed $4,651,977.
"Radio Flyer" received mixed to negative reviews from critics. It currently holds a 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 37 reviews.
Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin both criticized it for presenting fantasy as a way of escaping child abuse.
According to Roger Ebert in his review: "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."
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 ending presented was a case of an unreliable narrator.
In interviews, director Richard Donner has insisted that there is no cryptic, implied ending to the film.
Peter Travers from Rolling Stone wrote: "Radio Flyer earns points for trying earnestly to capture both, though the movie is only fitfully effective at meshing entertainment values with the knotty issue of child abuse."
The Washington Post's Desson Howe wrote in his review of the film: "What counts in "Radio Flyer" is its evocative texture. Director Richard Donner and screenwriter David Mickey Evans have created a very real, tragic world between the brothers. The help they give each other -- and the mature love that develops between them -- is immensely touching."