I remember the first time I watched Radio Flyer was in 1992-93 (pretty much around the time it first came out); I was 14 years old and had somehow been through the same situation the two brothers (wonderfully played by then-child actors Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazzello), so I found myself having some heavily mixed feelings about the film's content; today, I see it in a more "objective" light, but its plot and message remains as conflicting as the first time.
The story itself is kind of biter-sweet and quite dark for what is supposed to be a family film (the scenes involving abuse, although mostly off-screen, are nonetheless upsetting), but then it goes on and becomes a monstrous wreck by the third act. No wonder so many people have speculated about the true nature of what happened towards the end, and gave "their own theories".
The real deal, though, are the two young brothers. Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazzello (about 9 and 7 years old, respectively, when they did the film) each give a powerfully dramatic, breakthrough performance that just could not be parallelled by any other child star in a while -until, of course, Haley Joel Osment got an Oscar nomination for THE SIXTH SENSE, a mere 7 years later-. They both manage to be believable, incredibly adorable and painfully devastating, alternatively, without ever recurring to the cliché of "smart-aleckiness". Interestingly enough, they both went their respective ways to establish what was a somewhat solid career for a while as child performers: Mazzello got his big break with Jurassic Park, while Elijah Wood played opposite Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son (while Culkin was able to bring his own career down with said film), both released in 1993.
Anyways, without veering away from the topic. The rest of the cast are mere adult presences (except for the other kids playing the bullies) who only pave the way for our two youngsters to shine the way they did. Particularly Adam Baldwin, it was a very good idea to barely show his face at all, because he was truly loathsome in his role as the source of the kids' sorrow.
In all, despite all the fantastic elements inherently present in the storyline, had they handled the core of the plot with a little more "maturity", perhaps the outcome would have been a lot different. That's why, sadly, the film remains a below-average experience, only redeemable by the terrific turns of Mazzello and Wood (both now all grown up and not as noticeable as back then). If the film is to be seen, it should be only for them two. Which is also why I give the film 5 out of 10.
Only worthy for the excellent performances of Wood and Mazzello...