Rediscovering a Classic: The Wizard
by Marianne Paluso (@Marianne_P81)
If you grew up in the 1980s and ’90s, and were any kind of video game nerd, chances are you eagerly anticipated and remember seeing The Wizard. This 1989 release is probably best known as being one of the first showcases of Nintendo classic Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s true that the film will never be on any of the American Film Institute’s greatest films lists, but in addition to revolving around the love of video games, there are some surprisingly poignant moments.
The title character is a young boy named Jimmy, traumatized and perpetually stoic; that is except for when he bemoans the word “California” and tries to head out west (you will understand why by the film’s end). His behavior forces his mother and step-father to put him into a home for children. This makes his half-brother Corey so angry he decides to fulfill his brother’s wishes of going to California and the two hit the road to the Golden State. When they discover that Jimmy has a natural talent for video games, they ultimately decide to head to a National Video Game Championship in Los Angeles along with their new friend, the street wise, holds nothing back Hayley.
Despite the serious undertones, the movie is actually very funny, especially with its handle of the games themselves. Released in 1989, we see numerous NES games highlighted from Ninja Gaiden to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Some complained that this essentially made the movie a ninety-minute Nintendo commercial. That is in some respects true, but the story is not without merit. I defy anyone not to root for these three kids to reach L.A. and for Jimmy to land a spot in the final competition. The final Super Mario Bros. 3 showdown between Jimmy and an arrogant jerk they met on the road has the amazing, uncanny ability to glue everyone to the screen and become completely enthralled.
The Wizard also has a very good cast including Fred Savage (right at the start of his Wonder Years fame), Jenny Lewis (better known today as the lead singer from indie pop band Rilo Kiley), as well as Luke Edwards, Beau Bridges, and Christian Slater. There are also some moments that may move you, especially when it’s discovered why Jimmy is so traumatized. Although the stark contrast between the very serious and very funny may seem odd, it seems to work. But what The Wizard succeeds most at is showing the audience the greatness of video games. They can be easily dismissed, but they take real skill. They can be endlessly clever and fun. And most importantly, they can bring people together. For someone like myself who was never the biggest gamer, what The Wizard shows is that watching others can be just as much fun as playing yourself, and that we should always reach for the stars.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars