The Goonies (Donner, 1985)

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Companion review for Top 10 American Coming of Age Dramas

In a suburban home, in a dusty dark attic, behind some damp old boxes, in a wooden picture frame lies the key to an adventure only dreams can create, but in Richard Donner’s wonderful 1985 ensemble film, the dream is reality. From the imaginations of two of cinema’s children-in-peril masters – Steven Spielberg (from Elliot’s ‘He’s a man from outer space and we’re taking him to his spaceship!’ in E.T: The Extraterrestrial, to Tim and Lex watching a cup of water tremble to the ‘thud-thud’ of something rather large and nasty drawing near in Jurassic Park, or the fabulous John Williams score unsettling the stomach as Alex Kintner loses his in Jaws) and Chris Columbus (from Home Alone Kevin McCallister, and his defiant ‘this is my house and I have to defend it’, to Billy Peltzer’s ‘don’t feed it after midnight’ pet problem in the Gremlins), the groundwork was set. Throw in Richard Donner, the director of arguably the best superhero action film ever made (Superman) and the film begins to promise so much even before the Warner Brothers logo starts to appear on the screen. The almost iconic opening shot and the sound of the unlocking prison door start proceedings, and while some films promise so much yet deliver so little, The Goonies seems to just keep getting better.

In a small part of Astoria, Oregon, houses are being knocked down and in order for the town’s people to keep their homes they have to stump up a hefty fee. A fee none of them can afford, so the kids of some of the families get together on the final day before they have to move home. Gathering at Mikey’s (Sean Astin) house, Mouth (Corey Feldman) has the idea of searching the attic where Mikey’s Dad keeps museum artifacts, in the hope they could find something valuable. Accompanied by Mikey’s brother Brand (Josh Brolin), and friends Chunk (Jeff Cohen) and Data (Jonathan Ke Quan) they begin searching the attic. Chunk finds an old map that supposedly leads to One Eyed Willie’s treasure hidden somewhere in the hills of Astoria. Not totally believing that anything is to be found, they’re skepticism is put on hold when they find a newspaper cutting of a professional who went looking for this treasure, and never returned. Deciding that they have to do something, even if it is in vain, they set out to find what could be their saving grace. Along the way they band together with Andy (Kerri Green) and Stef (Martha Plimpton), and end up being pursued by a trio of on-the-run criminals out to get the loot for themselves led by Anne Ramsey and her two sons Jake (Robert Davi) and Francis (Joe Pantoliano).

The Goonies works because it has the visual flair, the action, and the inept, bumbling baddies that kids can understand and enjoy, and the sense of adventure, the character camaraderie, and the ‘feel-good’ sense of hope, that adults can associate with. The nostalgia of this very ‘eighties’ film oozes from the screen, in a time of class divisions and an ever-growing materialistic America, where the ‘American dream’ was becoming less than enough. In our less fortunate child-heroes, we are given glimpses of their working class lives – Mouth’s father, a struggling plumber, and the small, but adequate family home of Brand and Mikey. Perhaps the fact that Brand has recently failed his driving test, is not just an excuse to throw him into the plot, but strengthen that divide between his girlfriend’s rich, sports-car driving admirer, and him, someone who wouldn’t be able to buy a car, even if he could drive. How things have changed since every school senior had a car in sixties American Graffiti, or seventies Dazed and Confused. It all culminates to enliven, and flourish the rags to riches tale that this story ultimately is.

The film, from start to finish, thrives on the kids relationship between one another. One of the most exceptional things about The Goonies, is that each individual has a unique core, and the personality of each character is different, though they each share the same ultimate goal. The wonderful introduction of Chunk, has the slightly-overweight teenager forced into a friendly ‘truffle-shuffle’ ritual to earn his rite-of-passage into the home of his friend, and then, having done the deed, waiting while a bizarre, home-made invention unlocks and opens the gate. Clearly, this sort of ‘joke’ between friends is nothing new and provides an indication of the bond amongst them, while exampling in material form, the kid’s notion that ‘there is never anything to do around here’, as they certainly have enough time on their hands.

The performances are in no way ‘outstanding’ from the main young cast members, but they’re as good as they have to be. Sean Astin does a decent job of holding them all together, and both Corey Feldman and Jonathan Ke Quan offer some light amusement. Donner allows such performance inadequacies add to the realistic ambience of their characters, and the friendship between them. It is the bumbling baddies though, that stand out, with Anne Ramsey offering another sublime performance at the head of the Fratelli family. Not so far removed from her over-powering, old-dear in Throw Momma From The Train (although she had a little less left in the tank, in that movie), her commanding-officer style parenting stings the funny bone, while her under-appreciated son, played by Robert Davi (ultimate hard-man in front of the kids, but wet behind the ears in front of his mother) whines about his younger brother, played by Joe Pantoliano, always getting better parental treatment. While the trio might not be ‘Godfather’ material, their Italian heritage becomes a bit of an in-joke, right down to throwing pizza at each other.

The Goonies is a wonderful adventure story, which won’t fail to amuse children, however, it is one of those films that has too much delicious detail for simply children to admire. Like such Pixar animations as the brilliant Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life and Monster’s Inc, or other live-action adventures like Joe Dante’s The Explorers, Ron Howard’s Willow and John McTiernan’s Last Action Hero, The Goonies offers feel-good escapist entertainment, with enough wry humour, intelligent scripting, warm characters and a sense of optimism to ensure its longevity.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    Sir Phobos Reply

    I think the only thing I’ll disagree on is how awesome the performances are from the kids. Chunk isn’t outstanding? How about the scene where he has to spill it all for the Fratellis? And the dialogue is so rapid-fire yet filled with little kid slip ups. It’s perfect. I LOVE THE GOONIES!

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    Sir Phobos Reply

    Also, everything out of Data’s mouth is awesome.

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