REVIEW: The Goonies (1985)

In a nut shell

In order to save their homes from being turned into a golf resort, a group of misfits, known as The Goonies, set out on a dangerous adventure to find a pirate’s hidden treasure, all the while, being pursued by a family of criminals, known as the Fratellis.

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Everyone that was a child of the eighties remembers growing up with The Goonies.  Like Back To The Future, it seems like it was a mandatory rites of passage, forever etched in our hearts. It’s not hard to see why, it’s a straightforward adventure story with kids as the heroes, like an Enid Blyton tale seen through an 1980’s American lens. For me it was definitely a relatable experience – like Mikey and co, I grew up in a quiet village where nothing interesting happened, hanging out with my mates and riding bikes, yet sadly we never found any pirate treasure.  Even watching it now, in my thirties, the film has a strong pull of nostalgia, with moments, be it musical cues or lines of dialogue that echo back to memories of enjoying it as a kid.

Looking at who’s involved, it’s clear that this film is no fluke. Firstly it’s a Richard Donner film, a director who was able to tackle any genre – The Omen, Superman, and the Lethal Weapon series – it’s so diverse I was tempted to write a feature and call it “Donner Kebab”….(sorry)

Every director needs a good team behind him, including a solid script, courtesy of Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus (Gremlins, Home Alone, Harry Potter) as well as reliable production staff – Spielberg (again), Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall have had a few hits between them over the years (Star Wars, Back To The Future, Indiana Jones, Bourne, Jurassic Park to name a few) so it’s no wonder this film was such a success- it’s like the Avengers of blockbuster filmmaking!

With Spielberg and Donner’s involvement, it’s surprising that John Williams isn’t on scoring duties, however composer Dave Grusin – (The Graduate, Tootsie and The Firm) provides a catchy and rousing soundtrack. Cyndi Lauper on hand to provide a hit song (and even popping up as a cameo on a TV in one scene) and is one of the few things to timestamp the film – well that and Brand’s shorts over jogging bottoms combo…

With so many characters, good and evil, to introduce, it’s a feat that the film manages to introduce and establish them so quickly. Within 10 minutes, we have a daring prison escape (from some very inept police),introducing the bickering Fratelli’s, as well meeting the Goonies themselves and their topline traits. In this day and age, it was pleasant to rediscover that whilst this is a beloved kids film, it’s still one filled with drug references, swearing and dick jokes – again, all in the opening act.

The Spielberg values that worked so well in E.T are apparent here too – squabbling siblings, absent parents, friendship, and youth rebelling against their elders/the establishment. Instead of Elliot and co on the run from government goons, it’s the Goonies against the fat cats and spoilt brats of the Astoria Country Club. We even get a recurring motif of a group of kids on bikes that was such an influence on recent nostalgia fests, Stranger Things (2016) and Super 8 (2011).

Despite the Spielberg touch, it’s a testament to Donner’s skill of working with actors that he gets great performances from such a mainly young and inexperienced cast. It’s bizarre to think it’s both Josh Brolin and Sean Astin’s film debut – they seem so at ease in their lead roles – some people even fail to recognise both actors in more recent films like No Country for Old Men or Lord of the Rings. Whilst the characters are mainly lovable, I found myself getting a little annoyed with Astin’s character, Mikey who becomes a little whiny and grating – whether it’s motivating the others or having a one sided dialogue with One Eyed Willy.

Donner manages to pace the laughs and thrills much like a well crafted theme park ride. From the dramatic opening, to the slow build up to introduce the characters, the stakes and their quest but once the Goonies discover the tunnels, it’s a ride that never lets up. Much like Raiders of the The Lost Ark, the reliance on mainly practical effects for the various traps and challenges all enhance the films’ longevity and nostalgia factor. There’s a fairly well known deleted scene involving the kids fighting a giant octopus, and it’s an example of the quality control on display – the effects obviously didn’t look good enough to be included and would stretch the believability even further.

Speaking of monsters and effects, what to say about Sloth? He still terrifies me now, though by the end, just like Chunk, we’re all fond of him. It’s safe to assume that you wouldn’t get a character like Sloth in a kids film today, what would the PC brigade say?

Essentially a moralistic story – the importance of friendship and family triumphs over greed – but like its companions Back to The Future and E.T. it’s that delicate balance of sentimental schmaltz and thrills. The Goonies could chase after the ship for more treasure, but the point is that they have enough to save their homes, and that’s all that counts. If it were me and my friends however, we wouldn’t be whimsically watching the Inferno sail off into the sunset, we’d be desperately trying to charter the nearest boat to chase after it.

Why don’t they make films like this anymore? If you take a look over the last twenty years, the highest grossing family friendly blockbusters have either been comic book films or animation – Despicable Me, Shrek, and Frozen. The only thing that comes close as a classic adventure film is Pirates of the Caribbean and that’s because, well mainly, it features pirates. Where are all the kids movies about kids?

The film is very good at conveying the various relationships succinctly – we get that Mikey and Brand are always bickering, but in a quick scene, there’s also genuine affection. With all the differing characters on display, it’s easy for the viewer to identify with at least one of the Goonies. We’ve all known a jock like Brand, an unreliable friend like Chunk, the, a fast talker like Mouth and like Mikey, even now, I occasionally get my words mixed up.  At the end of the day, we’re all Goonies and that’s why it’s such a joy to revisit this film – it’s like catching up with an old mate.

Coulda Woulda Shoulda – The other famous Corey of the 1980’s, Corey Haim, auditioned for the role of Mouth, and that’s when he first met Corey Feldman. The two would go on to make a number of films together, most famously being The Lost Boys (1987).

MVP – A tie between Donner, Spielberg and Sloth.

Alternate Title: The Search for One Eyed Willy.

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