How did this happen? Well, Josh Baskin (David Moscow) was your average 13-year-old boy, who liked to play baseball and trade baseball cards. One evening, while he was at a carnival with his family, he tried to impress an older girl who was standing in line at a rollercoaster. But it backfired when the carnival worker pointed out he was too short to go on the ride. Disappointed, he comes across the eerie-looking "Zoltar Speaks" wishing machine. With the machine, Josh wishes he was "big". The next morning, Josh awakens to find he's become a grown adult (Tom Hanks). He tries to go back to the carnival site but finds everything, including the wishing machine, gone. He tries to go home, but his mother mistakes him for an intruder, and he gets chased out.
Desperate, he turns to his best friend, Billy Kopecki (Jared Rushton), for help. With a little money, he goes to New York City where he gets an entry-level job at the MacMillan Toy Company so he can support himself until he tracks down the Zoltar machine. While there, his childlike viewpoint and honesty helps him gain favor with the CEO, Mr. MacMillan (Robert Loggia), and he moves up the ranks of the company quickly. Which is how he meets Susan Lawrence (Elizabeth Perkins), an ambitious fellow executive. They soon fall for each other, although Josh starts to wonder: Should he stay with Susan or go back to his life as a 13-year-old?
This movie was a huge hit, critically and financially, in 1988. It even got Tom Hanks his first Academy Award nomination.
Was adapted to a stage musical in 1996.
Tropes featured in this film include:
- Adult Fear: Josh's cover story for his mother is that he's been kidnapped. Despite assurances that he is being treated very well and will eventually be returned, his mother is understandably terrified and deeply concerned.
- Armor-Piercing Question:Paul: You expect a kid to pay $19.00 for a comic book?
Susan: I think a kid would—
- Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Subverted. You'd be shocked to find this movie is rated PG despite one usage of the word "fuck".
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Josh wishes to be big, but he becomes a very tall man in the process.
- Benevolent Boss: Mr. MacMillan. He will listen to honest criticism and complaints about his toys and when a good idea is brought forth, he will go with it. He also does chop sticks for fun.
- Benevolent Genie: Josh wishes to be big, which is vague enough that a Jackass Genie or Literal Genie could subvert it any number of ways. But the Zoltar machine interprets the wish exactly how Josh intended it. The only surprise for Josh is that it actually works.
- The Big Rotten Apple: The pre-Giuliani New York City is showcased as Josh stays in a sleazy hotel until he gets enough money to have his own apartment.
- Bittersweet Ending: Josh gets his childhood back, but in the process has to end his relationship with Susan. Though she has a chance to wish she were a kid again to be with him, she declines the offer.
- Break the Haughty: From the moment Josh shows up at the office, Paul is constantly outshone and often winds up looking foolish. What makes it better is that Josh is so naive that he's not even aware of how much his actions infuriate Paul.
- The '80s: The era the movie was set and made in.
- Face on a Milk Carton: When Paul and Susan have breakfast, they have a milk carton on the table with Josh's child face on it. All while talking about the fact that Adult Josh seems to have come from nowhere.
- Fell Asleep Crying: Josh cries himself to sleep on his first night as an adult, and no wonder. Nobody knows who he is, he's staying all lone in a fleabag hotel in the Big Rotten Apple, somebody just got shot outside, and another guest is shouting verbal abuse.
- Fictional Video Game: Josh's text-based "Cavern of the Evil Wizard".
- Fiction Business Savvy: Executive brainstorming on new toys, "Transformers for girls!"
- Honest Corporate Executive: Mr. MacMillan. See Benevolent Boss above.
- It Won't Turn Off: The fortune-teller machine works despite not being plugged in. At the end of the movie, the protagonist is trying to reverse his sudden adulthood, and at first nothing happens - until he realizes that it's actually plugged in, and swiftly pulls out the plug to set it back in 'magic mode'.
- Paul. He doesn't like how this new guy moved up the ladder so quickly and his apparent Obfuscating Stupidity keeps getting Paul embarrassed.
- The ride operator. He already told Josh he wasn't tall enough to ride, but he just had to rub it in by making fun of him too.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Billy. He can be a playful kid at times, mocking others, but at the same time he deeply cares for his friend Josh and Josh's family.
- Just Woke Up That Way: When Josh first becomes an adult.
- The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: The carnival and Zoltar.
- Justified in that it's a traveling carnival.
- Magic Pants: Averted. Josh wakes up as an adult in the same undies he went to bed in before. Later a Brick Joke when Josh goes back to being a kid. The suit he wore didn't shrink with him.
- Make a Wish: The Applied Phlebotinum du jour.
- Male Gaze: When Josh accidentally bumps into Susan on his first day at MacMillan Toys.
- Mama Bear: Josh's mother is initially terrified when a strange man runs into her house and gives him her purse and tells him to take what he wants and go, until he mentions her son, whereupon she attacks him and sends him out of the house.
- Manchild: Josh Baskin comes off this way, he really is a 12-year-old boy in the body of an adult due to a wish he made to become taller so he could ride a roller coaster at the carnival. It gets Squicky when, in an attempt to prove to his mother he's really her son despite having a 30-year-old's physique, he briefly pulls down his pants to show her his little-boy underwear (mostly to show his birthmark), and she naturally freaks out.
- As Josh matures, Paul starts acting more childish out of jealousy of Josh's success.
- Mystical High Collar: The figure in the Zoltar machine wears one.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Unlike his coworkers, Josh is thrilled by receiving his first paycheck for $187.Josh: 187 dollars?!note
Scott: Yeah. They really screw you don't they?
- Noodle Incident: Susan is particularly offended at Paul for bringing up a guy named Golding in a list of her past relationships, though we never learn why.
- Offscreen Crash: The dinner party in the musical ends with Josh crashing the host's car after he asks him to park it.
- Oh, Crap!: Joshs expression says it all when he sees the carnival has left.
- One of the Kids: Josh's childlike nature tends to bring out the inner child in other adults around him. Mr. MacMillan gets back to the roots of an extroverted kid loving to play with toys, Susan turning mischievous and like a slightly bossy older girl, and Paul turning into a petulant bully. Even the board members, when discussing the uncool building-turns-into-robot idea, have a laugh as they toss around other ideas, like robots-into-bugs.
- One-Word Title
- Overnight Age-Up: Trope Codifier.
- Panty Shot: Susan while on the trampoline.
- Personal Arcade: One of the things Josh gets in his rapid rise up the corporate world is a Pin Bot pinball machine.
- Precision F-Strike: When Billy tries to tell Josh about the whereabouts of the Zoltar machine, only to get silenced. Particularly notable as it's a PG film (in America, at least. In Britain, the sole use of the word "fuck" was edited to keep it at a British PG. That one "fuck" uncensored would have given the film a 12 rating in the UK. Fortunately, the movie is available uncut with a 12 rating in the UK).
- Real Men Take It Black: The musical has a song called Coffee, Black based on this trope.
- Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Also a Defrosting Ice Queen, is Susan. She starts off cold, mistrusting of people, but Josh's innocence and kindness warms her up.
- Something Only They Would Say: They also serve as Trust Passwords:
- Adult Josh manages to convince Billy of his identity by singing the rhyme that the two of them were seen singing together towards the beginning.
- When calling his mother, she asks Adult Josh to confirm her son is all right by having him sing a song she used to sing to him when he was a child. Embarrassed, Adult Josh tries to ask for another question, but when his mother insists, he panics a little as he doesn't remember the song right away. He's also embarrassed because he's at work and singing in front of his co-workers.
- Suddenly Voiced: Zoltar can talk in the musical, though all he can say is "Make your wish" and "Your wish is granted".
- Tacky Tuxedo: Josh wears one (with sequins!) to an office party. His boss loves it because he's just so tired of everything being the same that Josh picking out something different delights him.
- Made into a Funny Moment when after everybody laughs at his tuxedo, Josh thinks his fly is down and tries to discreetly check.
- This Loser Is You: Interestingly averted. While Josh is easy for any kid his age to relate to, he is also shown to be very bright- smart enough to pick up an unknown computer system rapidly, and smart enough to tutor a boy his own (mental) age. The only time anything is made of this is when Billy kvetches about Josh's obsession with computers.
- Trust Password: Both instances where Josh sings something that is Something Only They Would Say.
- Villainy-Free Villain: Paul may be a major jerk, but the worst thing he actually does in the movie is try to cheat at racquetball (and then start a fight when Josh calls him on it). Other than that, he mostly just complains and slings around a few insults, and his only real goal is to do well at his job but has no imagination and cares only about profit.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Apart from a small shot of her in Derek's car, Josh's school crush Cynthia Benson is not seen again after the carnival scene. After he returns home, it's left unknown if he still had a crush on her or, due to his love for Susan, lost all feelings he had for her.
- You Must Be This Tall to Ride: The entire plot is sparked by Josh not being tall enough to ride the roller coaster.