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Director: Richard Donner
Writer: Chris Columbus (screenplay) and Steven Spielberg (story by)
Stars: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan,
Release Date: June 7, 1985
Run time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Facing foreclosure of their homes in the Goon Docks area of Astoria, Oregon, to an expanding country club, a group of children who call themselves “the Goonies”, gather for a final weekend together. The Goonies include optimist lead Goonie Mikey Walsh, his older brother Brand, the inventive Data, the talkative Mouth, and the klutz Chunk.
Rummaging through the Walshes’ attic, they come across a 1632 doubloon and an old treasure map purporting to lead to the treasure of legendary pirate “One-Eyed Willy”, believed to be located somewhere nearby. Mikey considers One-Eyed Willy to be the original Goonie. The kids overpower and bind Brand and make their way to an abandoned restaurant on the coast that coincides with the map; Brand soon follows alongside Andy, a cheerleader with a crush on him; and Stef, Andy’s friend. The group eventually discovers that the derelict restaurant is a hideout of the Fratelli crime family: Francis, Jake, and their mother. The Goonies find a tunnel in the basement and follow it, but when Chunk flags down a motorist to go to the sheriff’s station, he gets abducted by the Fratellis and imprisoned with their hulking, deformed, younger brother Sloth. The Fratellis interrogate Chunk until he reveals where the Goonies have gone, and begin pursuit. Chunk is left behind with Sloth, but befriends him. After Sloth frees both of them, Chunk calls the sheriff, and both follow the trail of the Fratellis.
The Goonies evade several deadly booby traps along the tunnels, while staying ahead of the Fratellis. Finally, they reach the grotto where Willy’s pirate ship, the Inferno, is anchored. The group discovers that the ship is filled with treasure, and they start filling their pockets, but Mikey warns them not to take any on a set of scales in front of Willy, considering that to be their tribute to him. As they leave the ship, the Fratellis appear and strip them of their loot. They start to bind the Goonies and make them walk the plank, until Chunk arrives with Sloth and distracts the Fratellis long enough for the Goonies to jump overboard and swim to safety. Brand saves Andy from drowning and she kisses him. The Fratellis proceed to grab all the treasure they can, including those on Willy’s scales; this triggers another booby trap which causes the grotto to cave in. With Sloth’s help, the Goonies and Fratellis barely escape.
The two groups emerge on Astoria’s beach, where they reunite with the Goonies’ families and the police. The Fratellis are arrested, but Chunk prevents Sloth from also being taken; he invites Sloth to live with him, which Sloth accepts. Just as Mikey’s father is about to sign the foreclosure papers, the Walshes’ housekeeper, Rosalita, discovers that Mikey’s marble bag is filled with gems he took from the ship and had not been seized by the Fratellis. Mikey’s father triumphantly rips up the papers, declaring that they have enough money to negate the foreclosure. As they are regaling the tale of their adventure to the disbelieving press and police, they notice the Inferno, having broken free of the grotto, sailing off on its own in the distance.
I was inspired to re-watch this old favorite when I read recently that a Goonies reboot series is slated to take place on Disney+.
Saying I did not enjoy my re-watch would be too harsh a criticism. It was still okay and the film definitely has its good moments. The feeling I had while watching The Goonies was almost like the feeling I get when watching a foreign film. Somehow, the passage of time has made the United States of 1985 (at least as depicted here) an entirely different country. Maybe there was a time in the U.S. when a roving gang of mostly harmless bicycle riding teenagers might care enough to repeatedly risk their lives trying to save their community from foreclosure, but a premise like that, in a modern setting, would be too much for suspending my disbelief.
When you watch the film, you can feel the fingerprints of its two writers Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg. I have always linked their respective directorial work, in my mind, especially their respective work with kids’ movies. Their work is stylistically very similar. It is therefore not surprising to see that both of them had their hand on this story, too. This feels like one of their movies even with the great Richard Donner in the director’s chair.
The Goonies is not a terribly kid-friendly movie – despite being aimed at younger viewers and being rated PG. The story opens with a jail break that includes a realistic-looking, though faked, prison hanging. It also depicts the murder of a federal agent, numerous dead bodies in various states of decompose, a child kidnapping and interrogation (including a threat to cut out his tongue while he is crying under duress,) a chained up, deformed, and horribly abused adult (Sloth), one of the kids lying to the maid about “sexual torture devices” in the attic, and a whole lot of child swearing throughout. Movie ratings in the 1980s made no sense at all.
Setting aside the alien motivation driving these teenagers onward, I love a treasure hunt adventure story. The gang of kids had a map, followed it, escaped booby traps, found the treasure, and saved their town. The stunts and special effects still looked pretty good to me. All of the kids at one time or another had a moment to shine and use their unique set of skills to get them through the traps. The group would not have succeeded had they all not be present. The end scene, where we One-Eyed Willy’s ship back out on the ocean, felt very satisfying.
A movie like this sinks or swims on the strength of its child actors and this one was cast exceptionally well. Sean Astin was the charismatic lead character and he was perfect. If you are most familiar with him from his turn as Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings films, then you will see a lot of overlap between his Mikey Walsh character here and dear old Sam. In both stories, Astin’s character is the innocent but good leader driving the others onward. Mikey even has some very Sam-ish monologues about why they have to keep going even as his friends want to turn back.
As this was a kids movie in the 1980s, Corey Feldman is also in it (I think he was contractually obligated to be in every kids-themed movie made during the Regan administration), and is his usual excellent side character self. Feldman’s characters almost always crack wise, speak in a way that is more mature than their actual age, but maintain just enough charisma, mixed with a touch of childish innocence, to make them likeable. “Mouth” here is no exception.
The older brother of Samwise “Mikey” Gamgee in The Goonies is Thanos actor, Josh Brolin. Unlike Sean Astin’s “Mikey,” Brolin’s “Brand” character in this movie bears zero resemblance to the iconic character he later becomes most well know for portraying. In fact, Brand is a tough but hard luck and somewhat hapless character. He is at various points in the story tied up by his little brother’s friends. When trying to chase down Mikey and his friends, he is forced to steal a little girl’s bike and is spotted by his love interest, Andy, while riding it. He spends most of the movie protecting, but taking his cues from, his little brother. His little brother even accidentally kisses his love interest before he does.
There are a group of characters in this film that would almost certainly be deemed “problematic” by today’s audiences. Data is a first generation Asian friend in the Goonies gang. He’s more or less a walking Mr. Gadget plot device. His primary function in serving the plot, is to provide inventive ways, via the gadgets he carries with him, to overcome difficulties on their journey. In addition, his inventions – including a Rube Goldberg gate-opener that we see early in the film – prepare the audience for the eventual Rube Goldberg booby traps set by the fabled pirate, One-Eyed Willy. For the most part, I think the story treats Data with respect, and as a hero, so I did not come away feeling as though he was the butt of a joke.
Chunk is a trickier character to analyze. Is it likely that a group of friends would tease their overweight friend – who takes his name and builds his identity around his love of food – for being overweight? Yeah. Is Chunk still a loved and welcome member in their group? Yeah. In that sense, the famous “truffle shuffle” scene feels more like ribbing than bullying, but I doubt that it would be as well-received today. Chunk is not the only member of the group with a character trait nickname. Corey Feldman’s mouthy character is called “Mouth” by everyone. Ke Huy Quan’s invention-crafting character is called “Data.” Is Chunk a meaner name than the rest? Yes. Does the ribbing go farther in his case than that experienced by the others in the group? Yes. Ultimately, I think the scenes with Chunk feel realistic but I think the passage of almost four decades have changed society too much today for them to be comfortably received in the present as comic relief.
The movie continues the fine-line walk of teasing while embracing with “Sloth.” Are his looks the basis for joking? Yes. Is his horrific abuse the basis for joking? Yes. Do the Goonies unreservedly embrace Sloth? Also yes. The group of kids literally get between Sloth and police officers with their guns drawn in order to protect him. While I have no doubt that some searching would reveal think-pieces about how problematic these characters are, particularly Chunk and Sloth, in my opinion, it is a mistake to be so focused on the political incorrectness of this film that you miss the larger lesson of inclusion.
Overall, I found the movie interesting, but I could not quite suspend my disbelief enough to immerse myself in its nostalgia. As a result, I ended up noticing a lot of the film’s flaws that I missed as a kid, and I spent as much time thinking about whether you could even make this movie today without significant changes, as I spent paying attention to the story. Perhaps that is to be expected when a story is thirty-seven years old. If you have never seen the movie, I find it unlikely that you will deem it more than mildly interesting. If you have seen it, especially if you enjoyed it as a kid, you should watch it again and let me know what you think.