Should I Watch..? 'The Goonies'
What's the big deal?
The Goonies is a family adventure film released in 1985 and was written by Chris Columbus, based on a story by executive producer Steven Spielberg. The film follows a small group of friends as they hunt down a supposed stash of pirate treasure while running afoul of some local hoodlums. The film stars Sean Astin, Josh Brolin (in his cinematic debut), Corey Feldman, Jeff Cohen, Jonathan Ke Quan, Kerri Green and Martha Plimpton. While initially successful with global earnings of $124 million, the film enjoyed a revival in popularity after it was first released on Blu-ray in 2008 and continues to highly regarded among fans and critics alike as a cult hit. While efforts have been repeatedly made to produce a sequel without success so far, the original film was selected for preservation at the US National Film Registry in 2017 for its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance.
What's it about?
In the Oregon city of Astoria, things are not well. A community by the Goon Docks area is facing foreclosure to make way for an expanding country club but for Mikey and his older brother Brand, this means the break-up of their close-knit group of friends known as the Goonies. As Mikey welcomes fast-talking Mouth, overweight klutz Chunk and inventive tinkerer Data round to his house for a final time, they accidentally discover a supposed treasure map that leads to the hidden stash of local pirate legend One-Eyed Willy. Realising that the treasure could prevent the sale of his family's house, Mikey convinces the others to join him in searching for the treasure so they ditch Brand (who would have snitched on his parents anyway) and head off to find the treasure.
Making their way to an abandoned restaurant by the coast, they discover that it is already home to a more modern gang of criminals - the ruthless matriarch Mama Fratelli and her two sons, the recently escaped Jake and the more quarrelsome Francis. Witnessing a possible murder at the restaurant, Mikey and the others find themselves pitched into a battle of wits against the Fratellis as well as being pursued by an angry Brand together with his cheerleader friend Andy and her friend Stef. But have the Goonies bitten off more than even Chunk could chew?
Michael "Mikey" Walsh
Brandon "Brand" Walsh
Lawrence "Chunk" Cohen
Clark "Mouth" Devereaux
Andrea "Andy" Carmichael
Stephanie "Stef" Steinbrenner
Jonathan Ke Quan
Richard "Data" Wang
Release Date (UK)
29th November, 1985
12A (2019 re-release)
Adventure, Comedy, Family
What's to like?
Spielberg and director Richard Donner know how to entertain a crowd and together, they have crafted a wonderfully frenetic and entertaining picture that really does have something for almost everyone. The story is a fantastic yarn combining pirates, booby traps, incompetent but mean criminals and a group of friends working well together to come out on top. Thanks to some genuinely charming and natural performances from the young cast, you completely believe this implausible tale and its characters in full. Special mention must go to Cohen as the hilarious Chunk and Thanos himself (Brolin) as the elder statesman of the group, who gives the impression that he'd rather have nothing to do with the group if he had any friends his own age.
The film still looks spectacular even after all this time with sets especially looking fantastic - with the amount of vines and cobwebs covering everything as well as some frankly absurd booby traps, you can see several elements of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom on display here. But the film's real strength is that it plays exactly right for its target audience of young teenagers. The film has just enough shots of skeletons popping up in the unlikeliest places to be scary and just enough shots of Green in her tennis skirt to be sexy but nothing particularly strong to worry parents. It's funny, exciting, thrilling and magical in equal measures and it's a rare family film that can provide all of that.
- One-Eyed Willy's pirate ship, The Inferno, was built from scratch for the film and was a full-size replica of a genuine sailing ship. Donner made sure that none of the child cast saw the ship before the scene when they stumble across it so their reactions when they saw it for the first time would be real. However, they were so impressed that the take was ruined and they had to shoot it again.
- Matuszak's makeup as Sloth took 5 hours to apply including his remote-controlled eye and flexing ears. The cast were told to not get the makeup wet but during the scenes on the pirate ship, Matuszak got wet. This delayed a whole day's worth of shooting.
- It was during the audition process for The Goonies that Corey Feldman met the late Corey Haim, who would go on to become best friends with each other. Haim auditioned for the role of Mouth which Feldman won but the two would feature alongside each other in seven films, mostly notably in The Lost Boys.
What's not to like?
Nervous parents might take umbrage with the amount of swearing in the film but I had one or two other niggles. It does run a bit longer than necessary and there are a couple of sequences that didn't feel essential to the narrative such as the rivalry between Brand and Andy with local jock and obvious creep Troy (played by Steve Antin). This may sound harsh but it kinda felt like padding - once the quest for One-Eyed Willy's treasure gets underway, the plot itself seems to stumble from one sequence to the next without much in the way of transition. So the film tries to inject any number of subplots such as the blossoming friendship between Chunk and Sloth or the developing romance between Andy and Brand into the narrative. But I personally felt that there was already enough going on - the film moves at quite a hectic pace and with kids often talking over each other in scenes, a little more cohesion would have been nice.
But despite this and the overwhelming stench of the Eighties emanating from the picture (a Purple Rain t-shirt, a Cyndi Lauper music video, etc), The Goonies doesn't really put a foot wrong. Granted, it wasn't likely to given the creative talents behind the scenes and in front of the camera but it's nice to see a film where all the pieces fall into place as they should. A final word of caution, though - unless they happened to see the film when it was first released, adult viewers are likely to feel short-changed by the film which doesn't offer as much to older viewers as it does to younger ones. For those who remember the film the first time around, the film generates a strong sense of nostalgia for a cheap pop but beyond this, it doesn't do much to engage viewers over the age of eighteen.
Should I watch it?
The Goonies feels like a weird blend of Enid Blyton's Secret Seven stories and Indiana Jones, throwing a strong core group of friends on an unlikely but thrilling adventure the likes of which we rarely see these days. But despite this, it works - it's exciting and thrilling for younger viewers but daring enough to not treat children as such, a tricky thing to pull off for any film. Technically, it hasn't aged as badly as you might think and you'll struggle not to smile whenever Sloth is on screen. For families looking for a bit of danger and and adventure in their viewing habits, you could do a lot worse.
Great For: nostalgic parents, children aged from 8-15, Spielberg's reputation as master of the blockbuster
Not So Great For: anyone with facial deformities, Italian-Americans, country club owners and members
What else should I watch?
It's difficult to think of family-friendly adventure movies these days without recalling the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, although it has slowly declined in quality ever since the release of the stellar debut The Curse Of The Black Pearl. Featuring a show-stealing performance from Johnny Depp as everyone's favourite alcoholic buccaneer Jack Sparrow, the film is a delightful combination of pirate yarn, soppy romance, ghost story and mind-blowing action sequences that are as entertaining as they are physics-defying. Subsequent films may have added more villains to the story, more Jack Sparrow madness and darker overtones but the first film remains an absolute must-see.
Of course, Spielberg has been produced family friendly film for decades and continues to do so. From the heart-warming ET, The Extra Terrestrial and modern reworking of Peter Pan in Hook to more recent affairs like the CG-animated The Adventures Of Tintin and sci-fi gaming epic Ready Player One, Spielberg seems to have an uncanny ability to craft films that continue to speak to younger audiences. Donner, of course, would become a highly successful director in his own right after he struck gold with the Lethal Weapon franchise, a series of four action films starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as mismatched cops who are never far away from causing huge amounts of collateral damage.
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© 2019 Benjamin Cox