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After being told he is too short for a carnival ride while attempting to impress an older girl (Kimberlee M. Davis), 12-year-old Josh Baskin (David Moscow) from Cliffside Park, New Jersey goes to a wishing machine called Zoltar Speaks, and wishes that he was "big." His wish is granted, but he finds out that the machine is unplugged, and backs away. By the next morning he is shocked to discover that he has been transformed into a 30-year-old man (Tom Hanks), and when he goes back to the wishing machine he finds that the carnival has already left. Fleeing from his mother (Mercedes Ruehl), who thinks he is a strange man who has kidnapped her son, Josh then finds his best friend, Billy Kopecki (Jared Rushton), at the school they both attend; Billy is shocked at first, but Josh convinces him of his identity by singing a secret song that only the two of them know. With Billy's help, he learns that it would take a couple of months to find the Zoltar Speaks machine, so Josh rents a flophouse room in New York City and gets a data entry job at MacMillan Toy Company.
By chance, Josh meets the company's owner, Mr. MacMillan (Robert Loggia), checking out the products at FAO Schwarz, and impresses him with both his extensive knowledge of current toys and his happy-go-lucky childlike enthusiasm. In a now-famous scene, the two end up playing duets together on a foot-operated electronic keyboard, performing "Heart and Soul" and "Chopsticks". This earns Josh a promotion to a dream job: testing toys all day long and getting paid for it. With his promotion, Josh's larger salary enables him to move out of the workingman's hotel and into a spacious apartment, which he and Billy fill with toys, their own Pepsi vending machine and a pinball machine. Josh soon attracts the attention of Susan Lawrence (Elizabeth Perkins), a fellow toy executive. A romance begins to develop, much to the annoyance of Susan's competitive boyfriend, Paul Davenport (John Heard). Josh becomes increasingly entwined in his "adult" life by spending more time with Susan, mingling with her friends and moving in with her. His new ideas become valuable assets to MacMillan Toys; however, Billy begins feeling annoyed and neglected, feeling that Josh has forgotten who he really is.
MacMillan asks Josh to come up with proposals for a new line of toys. Josh is intimidated by the need to formulate the business aspects of such a proposal, and Susan insists that she will handle the business end; that Josh need only rely on his affinity for toys to come up with a good idea. Nonetheless, Josh soon begins to feel overly pressured by this new life. When he expresses doubts to Susan and attempts to explain that he is really a child, she interprets this as fear of commitment on his part, and dismisses his explanation in frustration.
Longing to return to the life of a child, Josh eventually learns from Billy that the Zoltar Speaks machine is at Sea Point Park. In the middle of presenting their proposal to MacMillan and other executives, Josh leaves. After Susan realizes something is wrong, she leaves as well and encounters Billy, who tells her where Josh went. At the park, Josh finds the machine and makes a wish to become "a kid again." He is then confronted by Susan, who, seeing the machine and the fortune it gave Josh, realizes he was telling the truth. Susan becomes despondent at realizing their relationship is over. Josh tells Susan she was the one thing about his adult life he wishes would not end, and suggests she use the machine to turn herself into a little girl. She declines, indicating that being a child once was enough, and takes Josh home. After sharing an emotional goodbye, Josh, now 13, reverts to his child form and is reunited with his family.
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You're only young once!
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After a wish turns 12-year-old Josh Baskin (David Moscow) into a 30-year-old man (Tom Hanks), he heads to New York City and gets a low-level job at MacMillen Toy Company. A chance encounter with the owner (Robert Loggia) of the company leads to a promotion testing new toys. Soon a fellow employee, Susan Lawrence (Elizabeth Perkins), takes a romantic interest in Josh. However, the pressure of living as an adult begins to overwhelm him, and he longs to return to his simple, former life as a boy.
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