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

    One Comment

  1. maryJanuary 26th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I loved and own this movie. I saw in the theatre in 1989 when I went to Costa Mesa, CA to spend New Years with my Aunt!

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