Random Ramblings: The 'Radio Flyer' Conundrum


Recently, I was talking to someone about who I thought were the best child actors when I was also a child.  Two that really stood out to me were Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazello, and one film those two were in together was called Radio Flyer. Then I was reminded about the uniqueness of this film. Instead of reviewing the film, I wanted to have an open discuss about the ending.

It deals with a tough issue; child abuse. What I’ve noticed is the way that the film ends is interpreted many different ways, and the filmmakers never came forward to say what was right and wrong. I’m interested in hearing everyone’s opinions on it. How did you interpret the ending? Obviously spoiler alerts will follow..

For those of you who haven’t seen the film, the basic premise is this: Two young boys, Mikey (Wood) and Bobby (Mazello) move in with their single mother and her boyfriend, who refers to himself as ‘The King’. It doesn’t take long for The King to start physically abusing Bobby, and the mother turns a blind eye. The end of the film shows the boys building their Radio Flyer (named after the red wagon they have) for Bobby to fly away and be free of The King. He succeeds, and we are being told this story by the adult Mikey, who in turn is telling it to his own children. Now, I’ve read people’s opinions on the ending, and these are the most common ones I’ve found. Please excuse me if I’ve left one out.

1) Bobby was actually killed by The King, and this is just Mikey’s way of coping with it. But telling his children that his brother really did fly away in his wagon.

2) There was no younger brother, it was all in Mikey’s head. This was just a way of him coping with his own abuse, was to imagine that he had a weaker younger brother that was really the brunt of all the abuse.

3)There was no older brother, same situation as the previous, only it’s the abused child pretending he has a strong older brother.

4) The kid actually did fly away in his magic wagon.

Now, I was really young when this movie came out, and I remember seeing it right away. So at my young age, the thought of Bobby actually flying away in a wagon wasn’t too far-fetched (hell, the clown from The Poltergeist seemed pretty real to a 7 year old) I thought okay, it was a fantasy film and that’s how it ended. Then re-watched it as an adult, and it got me thinking. This was not the same film I remembered watching as a young kid.

I see it now as reason 1. Bobby really died after a particularly intense beating from The King. (Though some thing he died when he plummeted to his death in the Radio Flyer, but the beating makes more sense to me) When elder Mikey is telling this story to his children, they question his ending. He says he can change it since he’s the one telling the story, which to me meant that his children were aware their uncle was dead, but he wasn’t revealing exactly how. The “letters” that Mikey gets as an adult from his brother, that I couldn’t really explain. Maybe he writes them, maybe his mother felt guilty and wrote them. (though that’s a bit extreme to continue it into adulthood) What do you think? I’ve heard theories where when Mikey is being beat up during the game of football he is playing with the neighborhood kids is just his way of handling the beat down from The King. Good point, I can see that. Some people point out during the film that the mother really doesn’t address both boys at the same time. (which I disagree with) I think there were two boys.

I’m interested in hearing your opinions.

Thanks for reading!

54 comments:

  1. Bobby is real for 2 reasons, the mother introduces him to her aunt, and Tom hanks mentions him even before telling the story. Now if bobby simply ran away, his mom/police would find him in a second. This leaves bobby dying in a crash as the only possible ending, but is too sad so he makes up the flying part and writes the postcards on behalf of him

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    1. I always thought he was real as well. I just can't decide if it was because of the beating, or because of the radio flyer. I lean more towards the beating.

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    2. Dunno, if Bobby is a figment of Mike's then he'd have imagined anything he told in the story and given the severity of it all, he probably kept Bobby as a coping mechanism his whole life. So he probably spent years making up the perfect story in his head as a coping mechanism.

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    3. I think a lot points to him being real, but since Bobby being imagined is a popular theory, I included it in this post.

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  2. I have to go with the fact that Bobby died from The King, because Adult Mikey has Samson, who was in the Radio Flyer with Bobby, only Shane the dog got out of the Radio Flyer.

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    1. Thanks for commenting! I think you're right. That's a good point about Sampson.

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    2. I was under the impression that the ending was the "holy crap!" Moment... where you think Mikey is telling the story but in fact it's actually Bobby. Just the hesitation when asked "is that where we got Samson?" Instead of questioning "if bobby flew away, why do we have Samson?"

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    3. Oh that's interesting. I never thought of it from that POV.

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  3. at first i interpreted it as bobby dying as well. i just read an interview w/ the writer who said he intended bobby and mike's contraption to ACTUALLY work. the last scene was supposed to be the adult bobby and mike (played by tom hanks) reuniting at the smithsonian museum. someone higher up decided to leave the ending more ambiguous and open to interpretation (which i personally think is better). here is the interview:

    http://davidmickeyevansblog.blogspot.com/2011/04/what-happened-to-bobby.html

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    1. Interesting, thanks for sharing that! I agree leaving it open was a better choice. It presents all these questions. Thanks for reading my post.

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  4. i really do think the king killed bobby bc when he is arested the cops say somthing to the effect of "youre going away this time"... and even tho this movie is in the darker side of the grey area of kid or adult film its still not bad< i have seen it a couple of times and it waent till later i saw the underlying message amd concoultion.

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    1. Thanks for commenting! Yes, it took me awhile to kind of see it for what is was too. But I agree, I think The King killed Bobby.

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  5. I just watched this movie for the first time as an adult, and I couldn't stop crying throughout the whole damn thing! Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazzello turned in some really great performances for being so young.

    I read the writer's interview. I think the way the film was ultimately made, you can come away with any interpretation you want. There is definitely evidence for Bobby being fake or him dying, as when Tom Hanks says something along the lines of 'history is determined by the person telling it' and 'that's how I choose to remember it' to his sons at the end of the film.

    I just think this is too horrible an ending, so I'll go with the writer's original ending, that Bobby and Mikey reunited at the end, with the Radio Flyer hanging in the museum, held up by nothing. Magic is real in this world, and Direct TV info guide lists the film as "fantasy," so I'm going with this ending. I could have sworn they were going to reunite at the end of this movie, but I guess I must have been thinking of some other movie.

    --Jared,
    jaredtequila@gmail.com

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    1. Thanks for commenting! Yeah, when I saw this as a kid I totally accepted the magic part of it.I do feel like the director kind of copped out when he was interviewed about the ending. Clearly he had a very different vision than the studio.

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    2. I was reading through all these comments and this just made me realize that Bobby did in fact die because the writer said in the interview that Nike was going to meet Bobby in the museum and the Radio Flyer would just be there floating magically so that would mean that the meeting and the floating Radio Flyer where all and Mikey's head. So it would have been like he was meeting the ghost of his dead brother all grown up and the Ghost of the Radio Flyer so the interview and the writer's comments to me confirms that Bobby did in fact die

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    3. I've seen that too. Like I've said before, Bobby dying fits the most. I'm glad they didn't have the radio flyer in a museum though. I was never a big fan of the "fantasy" element in the film.

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  6. Tom Hanks says "You see what I mean when I say history is in the mind of the teller?" When speaking to his kids at the end, meaning the story is what ever he wants it to be. He also says, "that's the great thing about promises, they last forever". What is the one thing Mike promised Bobby? He promised he would never tell their mother about the abuse Bobby was a victim of by "the King". So when Bobby was killed by "The King" Mike lived up to his promise and never told his mother (even though she knew) and created an imagined story to swear by which was that Bobby flew away like magic to travel the world and even went to the extent of writing those letters on Bobby's behalf long after. All becuase a promise is a promise. Tom Hanks mentions "whenever the thoughts of Bobby start to fade away another postcard would arrive. What he really did was make Bobby into a imagined inspirational world venturer in effort to prevent what he remembered of his brother from ever fading away. Which turned into the book he was typing just before the end.

    I would say the Radio Flyer was a toy given to both boys and when they would go to the wishing spot and had the local Fisher boy as someone known, the imagined story Tom Hanks spoke of was the one the two boys fathomed up before Bobby was killed. So after he was killed it was the story Mike chose to remember as the real thing as opposed to what had really happened.

    Child abuse was an ignored thing mostly around the time so I guess for a way for kids to grasp it as well as adults the movie did a good job.

    -Justin

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    1. Great comment, Justin! I like the part about him turning his postcards into a book at the end. That's one thing I never considered. Thank you for stopping by.

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  7. I just finished watching this movie and i def have a different take away now then when i watched it as a kid. After watching it tonight i to belive that bobby was killed by the king & mainly because what tom hanks says at the end to his boys & how emotional he was. I think tom hanks character created the story of bobby escaping on the radio flyer as a coping mechanism sort of the same way victims of abuse can completely repress past memories. I to read the directors article & i like the idea of them meeting as adults & everything being ok but real life isnt always neat & pretty.

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    1. Exactly. I feel the same way. Thanks for commenting! :)

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  8. Just watched this again and realized something. At the end of the movie, the two kids asked if that is where they got Samson from. The father said yes and the kids made him pinky promise. If they have a dog named Samson now, it could not be the same dog from his childhood. He got the "character" Samson in his story from the dog they currently have now. With that realized, when the stepfather was trying to stop Bobby from flying away, Samson attacked the King. When the policeman handcuffed the King, he was full of blood. If there was no dog in real life at that time, the blood was most likely Bobby's blood and not the King's. It is better for Mike to remember it as the King's blood instead of Bobby's blood.

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    1. Samson was the turtle. I can't remember the dog's name, but I'm sure that exisited and the King really did kill it.

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    2. Except Shane was the dog and Sampson is the tortoise that Bobby flies off with in the radio flyer,
      So either Bobby really is killed, and never takes off with the tortoise,
      The radio flyer crashes and the tortoise is recovered from the wreckage,
      Bobby was never real
      Either way I think between production and all the other channels they didn't check their stuff and left the tortoise loophole....
      Sampson the dog wouldn't live so long as to see a 10 year old into grandfather hood however a tortoise can easily span lifetimes, so very real possibility Bobby never existed, or Bobby died or they both over came and lived on they do show the memoribikia at the end with Bobby stuff...
      I think they should have to give the answers to make several.million off a film!

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    3. Clearly enough people still wonder about it. The only thing I'd be afraid of is disproving my pet theory and my own personal annoyance. lol

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    1. Yes, Shane. Thank you, apparently I was too lazy to Google when I left that last comment. ;)

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  10. So I just rewatched this, and I have a little different take.

    Bobby is real and very alive. I do think the Radio Flyer was the coping mechanism for the abuse, so while I don't think he flew away, I do think it helped him escape in the stories.

    The main reason I think he is alive is because of Fisher at the end. I think Fisher was also a victim of abuse and came up with the fantastic flying story that was shown on the news article. He was the hope and what validated to the boys that you can pull through the evil they were in. He was obviously handicapped because of his abuse, but overall was happy. I think them going out that night was the night Bobby planned to run away, and they got caught, Bobby subsequently got beat, and the cop really showed up with mom and caught the King.

    Having said that, he pointed to the sky in the movie at this point which is generally indicative of heaven, so that could totally blow my theory out of the water. Haha

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    1. I really like your take on Fisher, him being an abuse survivor is something I never thought of. Thank you for reading! :)

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    2. That is my take on the story as well. I only add two different wrinkles. Either he was placed into foster care, which wouldn't make much sense because the "King" was hauled off. Or he became a pilot and as an adult and started to travel the world. That post cards are real, it is Bobby's real life escape. Sampson was gifted to his nephews, as land tortoises can live well over a hundred years. However for years I believed Bobby died as a result of the eminent crash or beatings. As I have aged, my outlook has become more positive. Regardless, this story tears me up, as I was a subject of singled out abuse as a child.

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    3. That's awful, I'm sorry that happened to you, but I like that your outlook as gotten more positive as the years have gone on.

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  11. I saw this movie at a young age, and loved it (I still do). But seeing it as a 30+ year old, it feels different. As a youth, I really believed that Bobby flew away and found safety... because I believed in miracles (I still do). I negated his need for logical elements, like money, food, sleep, etc. Bobby was 8, with limited education... so how could he explain why/how he was flying around in a flea market airplane with one wheel. It's funny how young minds work.

    I recently watched this movie again... as an adult, and the logic was bothering me so much that I had to ask Google for answers... which lead me here.

    I have read a few articles and bunch of comments... all leading me to my theory.... Mike made up Bobby as a way to cope with the abuse and explain the abuse to his kids. Think, how hard is it to relive childhood abuse? And how difficult would it be to explain to your kids? Also, as a kid, how do you make sense of abuse? Often, it manifest as "what am I doing wrong?" or "what is wrong with me?", and it would be easier for Mike to look at himself as another person when asking those questions and making sense of things.

    I imagine the incident at the hill played out as Mike trying to "fly" away on his wagon and the King catching him before he endangered himself (potentially committing suicide)... however the police officer shows up in time to witness the King's abusive handling of Mike, and arrests the King (ending his reign). The mother's cries of "Where's Bobby" was imagined by Mike... he misinterpreted her frightened tears mixed with tears of joy and assumed she was crying about his "Bobby". But now he and "Bobby" were safe, and he lost touch with the abused victim side of his life as Bobby flew to freedom. And the postcards that Mike receives are metaphorical for him both rediscovering and losing his innocence. There are no postcards, he just gets random reminders of both the abuse and his childhood rationalization of the abuse. And as he matures, he makes better sense of things, but doesn't want to lose that piece of him... so in his real life, it manifests as "postcards" from the victim saying "everything is ok now". That's his way of confirming that he's ok now.

    In closing, I think this explains all the logical holes in the movie... like the mother's response to losing a child, the narrator's kids never meeting their uncle, etc. It's definitely on some Fight Club level logic.

    His interaction with Fisher at the gas station is a reminder that their are some adults who still believe in miracles. It's a sign, confirming that the night of the "fly" is in fact a special night where everything changes. Keep in mind, Fisher clearly states "you got a chance"... yes, it was wrapped in a flying advice, but that's just Mike's way of making sense of it. And then the Jackie Robinson card is the ultimate metaphor for "things can and will change". It's all there.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your theory! I wonder if the writer of this movie realized as he was making this that people would still be contemplating the ending 20 years later? It's interesting to think about.

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  12. My hisband & I just saw Radio Flyer for the first time 30 mins. ago. I'm 57 & my husband 59. I can't believe neither of us had even heard of it, especially my husband, the oldest of 5 adventurous boys. Movies like this are ones we would have wanted our children, being the the perfect preteen ages to see it when it came out. What a loss they missed it as children. Can't wait to recommend it to them & get their interpretations, especially my son's.
    Upon the ending, wiping tears, I asked my husband's thoughts, he said he'd need to think about it. His view will certainly be different than mine. I am an Artist/Creative/casual writer & easily can mentally "climb right into a movie, story, my keen imaginations can always bring many interpretations with details many miss catching them all. My thoughts have covered all I have read here, but my first, knee jerk opinion was that Miky was Bobby & removed himself from the abuse & giving himself strength as being the protector over his weaker self "Bobby". "Bobby" flying away, was him letting "Bobby" go. The football playing facial injuries would be hard to hide from his Mom. With The Kings abuse out in the open, there no longer was a need to hide it, help would be on the way, so he could let "Bobby" go. Now that was my first, uncontiplative view. After considering it all, I'm now thinking about these other scenarios & planning to watch it over on a more "investigative level" than the entertainment level I just watched it as. This is one of those movies like, "I see Dead People", when watching for certain details that were cleverly covered or added to mislead you become clear.
    No matter the writers intent, it was a stoke of geinous to end the movie where the producers did. I just can't believe there wasn't a bigger hype about this film.
    I wish our 3, now adult children had seen this as children. Heck, I wish I had seen a movie like it as a child. I grew up protected from the knowledge of all abuse, never knowing some of the kids that were my friends or any kid could be suffering physical or verbal abuse in silence. If a movie like this had been made during the 50's/60's, that kids of my generation could have been made more aware, proactive movements such as child protection services & CASA would have been enacted much sooner, enpowering & helping the victims of spousal & child abuse along with abusers that much sooner.
    Boy, oh boy, I never thought, watching this little "Fantasy" movie tonight would provoke so much. A complete surprise. Wow

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    1. Thanks for sharing that! :) I'm glad I saw this when I was a child. It's always stuck with me. I wonder if the film makers intended to have the ending be so thought provoking and generate so many discussions, because it doesn't seem like there's many of them that I can find on the net. The film apparently bombed at the box office, which is unfortunate as it's so special to me.

      Every time someone drops by to leave a comment on this post, I want to watch the film all over again.

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  13. We always delete movies & shows we have recorded to our Direct TV recorder because it's always so full. I auto erased Radio Flyer as soon as it finished out of habit. I'm so aggravated I did that!!!! Gotta find again so I can watch it with a critical eye. I think I saw where it was in book form.
    From one Radio Flyer lover to another, happy watching!

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    1. Yes, I haven't read the book it was based on. It wasn't in any library near me. I think I made a mental note to check on scribd and amazon then completely spaced it. I hope it comes on TV again so you can record it.

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  14. I just can't wait until Elijah Wood finally grows up to be Tom Hanks.

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  15. The story was metaphorical to me, in every shape and form. That being said, I'm on the side where I believe Bobby is real and alive.

    How? Why would they need to get money in order to build a hunk of junk that wouldn't logically fly? Because that isn't what they were building up for. If I can recall my childhood, the most mundane things were 'magical' in a sense.

    The machine they were building, was completely symbolic. They didn't build the radio flyer (and if they did, it probably didn't even look like that) but what they were getting was tickets out of there to fly out of the airport.

    The King came back earlier than planned, before they had enough money to both get out of there. So it was Bobby who was sent on a plane. This is why right as their mother gets done reading their note, you hear a plane fly over head. Bobby is on that plane.

    Children don't have the sense of time like adults. Memories as you get older, get blurred together. The whole movie in fact, recalled the most 'important' aspects in their memories.

    What Mikey was remembering, was likely his goodbyes at the airport. He ran back to the wishing spot afterward, where the King finding him. The airport, seeing this disturbing display of the children going to this desperation, called authorities but Bobby was already on the plane flying the moment it went over their mother's home.

    What we see afterwards, with the infamous Radio Flyer scene, is likely a flashback. The mother was already driving there. We don't know if the mother actually called authorities or not, but if she did -- I think a lot of their speediness had to deal with the fact some people at the airport were greatly concerned. (And it was clear that the one police officer knew something was wrong throughout the movie, but couldn't do anything about it because the children would not say a word about the subject. He likely knew immediately what was wrong and was right there on the scene.)

    The walkie talkie was likely how they kept connected to say their goodbyes properly, before he was long out of distance. The shaking was turbulence from the plane going up and I assumed Bobby already had dreams of being an aviator so he got into the role like he was.

    This is also ties into why the authorities so conveniently at the right time stopped the King. Mikey likely ran up to the wishing spot to see him fly off in the distance and try to keep contact with him.

    Why it took so long to find Bobby because he might have been picked up by authorities wherever he landed where he was properly questioned. But after a while they finally did get contact with him again because he was soon put into foster care and where he was able to fulfill his dream by becoming an aviator who traveled all over the world.

    The plane that flies over head at the end, with Tom Hanks and all -- is likely his little brother and they are visiting him to see him fly. It's important there is no implication that Bobby is dead the way the children talk about him.

    Mikey likely told this 'magical' story is because this is how he genuinely had to cope with the abuse, but I don't think any of the things were outright lies.

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    1. That's an interesting theory, it's one I haven't heard before. My only thing is, a minor can't get on an airplane without an adult dropping them off, and an adult retrieving them, having flown as an unaccompanied minor myself. I suppose a movie could ignore that logic of how air plane tickets work. Thanks for sharing that! I love hearing new opinions so many years after I wrote this post.

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    2. It's an interesting movie. I also went with in mind, the creator himself said Bobby had survived, which made me thinking of it in a metaphysical sense. Otherwise, I was assuming he was dead too.

      This goes into the idea it was Fisher who bought the ticket. There was an odd focus on him despite him being a relatively 'minor' character and just being an urban legend. He appeared to be an older teenager/young adult, so he may have been the one who did it and just lied saying someone would pick him up over there.

      The plane with Bobby on it likely was notified immediately when it was up in the air, so when it landed the local authorities picked him up. There he probably explained the whole abusive situation, they found the mother incompetent to take care of the child and thus why he got put into the adoption situation.

      On the flip side, Mikey and his mother were likely kept under close watch from then on, in case their mother fell back into old habits and ended up with another abusive guy. It thankfully didn't happen.

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    3. Interesting about Fisher. That would be kind of nice for the boys to have the local legend assist with an escape. Thanks again for sharing this theory here. :)

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  16. I always viewed this film sort of akin to the movie "The boy who could fly". I'm going to have to watch them both again. I just caught the very ending of Flyer and it led me here.

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    1. I've never seen The Boy Who Could Fly. I'll have to check that out so I can better understand your comparison. Thanks for visiting!

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  17. In a recent article, David Mickey Evans explains how the ending was changed... here is a quote on how he intended it to end: " The most glaring change was the end of the film, the original script ended with a reunion of sorts between Mike and Bobby, grown up, in the Smithsonian National Aerospace Museum where the Radio Flyer is on display next the The Wright Flyer -- with the exception that is has no visable means of support (no wires, nothing... just hovering in mid air proudly). I wrote it because I intended it to mean that the Radio Flyer had actually worked -- whatever the machinations of how Bobby survived notwithstanding. Mr. Donner's opinion was that the ending should be a "Rorschach Test" for the audience. I believe that is entirely wrong."

    Apparently Bobby lives and the radio flyer worked though he never thought of logistics on how a child that young survived on his own. I saw the movie as a child and loved it until my mean stepfather told me "HE DIDN'T LIVE HE DIED." I always thought he had died...

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    1. I think the fantasy elements of this movie are what worked the least. Like the giant buffalo talking to Mikey in his dream, so I can see how that ending probably would've bombed. lol

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  18. One of my favorite childhood movies. I always believed Bobby lived and later became a pilot. Never saw it any other way.

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    1. That's a happy way to look at it! Thanks for stopping by.

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  19. Just watched Screen Junkies with Elijah Wood as a guest and I think he mentions that Bobby committed suicide, with the whole flying thing as a metaphor for it. Although I do know that the writer intended for him to live.

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    1. Really? Wow I'm going to have to look up that interview now. Thanks for mentioning it.

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  20. Here's an interview with the original writer (supposed to be director) of the film. It'll provide some insight. I really wish I could have seen his
    version of the story. httpdavidmickeyevansblog.blogspot.com/2011/04/what-happened-to-bobby.html

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  21. Anyone know if the buffalo had a name?

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