In Retrospect – The Goonies (1985)

As the cult around one of the ’80s most beloved of flicks has grown, so too have the calls for a belated sequel.

Anybody who watches The Goonies will have their favourite character, but the thought of settling down to catch another adventure with the likes of Josh Brolin, Sean Astin and Corey Feldman more than 30 years after their search for “One-Eyed” Willy’s treasure is not an appealing one.

the-goonies-posterThe Goonies was, in writer Chris Columbus’ words “Indiana Jones for kids”, a movie that not only stars youngsters, but is also fundamentally about them – about the scrapes that young friends get into before the complications of adult life get in the way.

The modern wave of teen flicks began in the ’80s as Hollywood reacted to the explosive success of Star Wars by tapping in to the inpatient youth market. Alongside the Brat Pack movement led by the guiding hand of John Hughes, Steven Spielberg was overseeing a revolution in family movie entertainment.

the-gooniesThe term ‘Spielbergian’ was coined to describe a certain type of popcorn-friendly feature and Richard Donner’s The Goonies (1985) perfectly fits the mould. Executive produced (and co-directed according to some) by the bearded one, the film is fantastical, fun and acutely sentimental in equal measure.

The self-labelled Goonies are a gang of social misfits facing the prospect of their last day together as the neighbourhood they live in prepares to make way for a new golf course. Hanging out in Mikey’s (Astin) attic, they stumble across a map pointing them to the fabled “One-Eyed”Willy’s loot. Against the better judgement of Mikey’s older brother Brand (Brolin), the gang go in search of the gold and, along the way, must contend with the pirate’s booby traps as well as an escaped family of criminals, led by the cragged Mama (Anne Ramsey), who learn of the treasure.

The film smartly spends time establishing the close bond of the kids before they embark on their adventure. It’s these early scenes that are strongest as we get a sense that the characters are desperately trying not to think about the seemingly inevitable events on the horizon – most effectively captured in a brief, sad hug between Mikey and Brand.

The GooniesDonner encouraged improvisation on set, which perhaps inevitably led to the excited young actors (some of whom like Astin and Brolin were starring in their first feature) speaking over each other in an effort to get the last line in. Although subsequently defended by a number of the cast, it often leads to scenes becoming cacophonous as dialogue gets drowned out by screams and shouts.

The dialogue itself is very much of its time (the word “shit” would never get uttered as much in a kids film today), while the big speeches don’t land with as much weight as you imagine Donner and Columbus had originally intended.

The subterranean caverns the Goonies must contend with owe more than a passing nod to Indiana Jones, but are beautifully designed and evoke a real sense of danger. Furthermore, “One Eyed”Willy’s pirate ship (built lovingly to scale) remains a sight to behold and the look of gleeful amazement on the actor’s faces as they first set eyes on it is wonderful.

The GooniesLess successful are the interactions between the Goonies and the dastardly Fratelli clan. Their initial encounter in a run down old restaurant (the starting point for the treasure quest) is clumsily handled and the film can’t seem to decide just how threatening to make its family of criminals.

The film’s opening scene has Jake (Robert Davi) escaping prison after convincing a guard he’s hanged himself (something else we probably wouldn’t see in a film of this ilk these days). Another scene later on finds Goonie Chunk (Jeff Cohen) having been captured by the Fratellis and threatened with having his hand mangled by a blender unless he tells them everything. It’s unnerving stuff, lightened by Chunk taking their threat literally by tearfully owning up to every minor infraction he’s ever committed.

James in particular veers between pantomime villain and wicked witch, while Davi and fellow Fratelli Joe Pantoliano enact the sort of bumbling villainy made famous a number of years later in Columbus’ Home Alone.

The GooniesThrown into the mix is the character of Sloth (John Matuszak), the horribly disfigured brother of Davi and Pantoliano’s Fratellis, who is chained away and later befriends Chunk. Largely ignoring the darkly disturbing aspects surrounding such a tragic character who only wants to be loved, the film instead plays Sloth for light-hearted fun, even going so far as to throw in a Superman gag (a nod to Donner’s 1978 big screen take on the Man of Steel).

While a bit ragged around the edges, The Goonies remains a warm-hearted celebration of the power of friendship and the importance of living every last second of childhood.

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3 comments

  1. ruth · February 21

    I always enjoy retrospect series, though it’s been ages since I watched this one, Mark. Great post!

    • Three Rows Back · February 25

      Ah, thanks Ruth. It’s not as good as I remember unfortunately but it’s great for a retro viewing.

  2. Kenneth T. · June 26

    “follow those size fives”

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