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The Wizard, also known as Joy Stick Heroes, is a 1989 adventure dramedy movie starring Fred Savage, Luke Edwards, and Jenny Lewis. The film follows three children as they travel to Californiamarker so the youngest, who has a condition that makes him emotionally withdrawn, can compete in the Nintendo World Video Game Championships. The movie was North America's introduction to what would become one of the best-selling video games of all time, Super Mario Bros. 3.

The film, which makes many references to Nintendo, was made by Universal Studios. A few years earlier, the two companies were involved in a major lawsuit, over Nintendo's Donkey Kong character and game, which Universal claimed to infringe on their rights to King Kong.

Plot

Jimmy (Edwards) is a young boy who has suffered from a serious mental disorder ever since his twin sister drowned in a river. He doesn't interact with anyone, he spends most of his time building things out of blocks or boxes, and he always carries his lunchbox with him. He has tried to run away to California many times. The trauma of the drowning and Jimmy's condition has broken up his family: he lives with his mother and stepfather, while his half-brothers Corey (Savage) and Nick (Christian Slater) live with their father Sam (Beau Bridges). When Jimmy is put into an institution, Corey breaks him out and runs away with him to California. Hired by Jimmy's mother and stepfather is Putnam (Will Seltzer), a greedy and sleazy, runaway child hunter, who competes with Corey's father and older brother to find the boys and sabotage each other's efforts.

Along the way, they meet a girl named Haley (Lewis), who is on her way home to Renomarker. Discovering that Jimmy has an innate skill at playing video games, Haley tells them about a video game tournament with a cash prize of $50,000 and then agrees to help the two reach Los Angelesmarker to participate in it for a cut of the money. By doing so, they hope to prove that Jimmy doesn't need to live in an institution. The trio hitchhike across the country, using Jimmy's skill and appearance to hustle people out of their money by playing video games. Along the way, they encounter Lucas Barton (Jackey Vinson), a teenage boy who shows off his Power Glove and his skills at Rad Racer, declaring he is also entering the championships.

They finally arrive in Reno, where it is revealed that Haley wants her share of the prize money to help her father buy a house. With the help of an acquaintance trucker, Spankey (Frank McRae), they use money won at the craps tables to train Jimmy on several games in the Reno arcades, using Play Choice 10 machines. They then head to the Championships at Universal Studios Theme Park, where the game played in the preliminaries is Ninja Gaiden. Jimmy qualifies as a finalist, but is pointed out to Putnam by Lucas (also a finalist) and the three are chased throughout the park, barely making it to the finals. The game in the finals is Super Mario Bros. 3, which at the time had not been released in the US (it was only available in Japanmarker), and Jimmy wins the tournament at the last second.

The family catches up to the children during the finals of the tournament. On the way home, they drive past the Cabazon Dinosaursmarker, a tourist trap at which the family often stopped when they vacationed in California. Upon seeing the exhibit, Jimmy becomes extremely restless, chanting "California" and forcing his family to pull the car over. Jimmy immediately jumps out and races toward the dinosaurs, his family in pursuit. He associates the dinosaurs with his sister, with whom he visited them in the past, and he leaves his lunch box, which contains photographs and other mementos of his sister, inside one of the dinosaurs.

Reception

The movie received a poor reception from some critics, who considered it little more than a 90-minute commercial for Nintendo games and Universal Studios Hollywoodmarker. Roger Ebert, for example, found the movie's situations implausible, while Washington Post staff writer Rita Kempley opined that the movie was "tacky and moribund."

Release history

The Wizard was released on VHS and Laserdisc three times, in 1990, 1992 and 1997. It was first released on DVD in Region 2 on February 2, 2001 and finally in the US and Canada (Region 1) on August 22, 2006.

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