The Goonies (1985)
Dir. by Richard Donner
Starring Sean Astin, Josh Brolin and Corey Feldman
A group of kids from Astoria, Oregon, whose homes are about to be demolished to make way for a country club, attempt to follow a map to the hidden treasure of the legendary 17th century pirate One-Eyed Willie. In the process, they run afoul of a family of criminals, who decide to make an attempt for the treasure themselves.
By the time I was eight years old, I’d watched our taped-off-TV copy of this movie so many times that the tape wore out and had to be replaced. I pull it out and watch it again once every couple of years now, and I can still quote large portions of the movie from memory.
When critics bemoan that Hollywood doesn’t make kid-oriented adventure films anymore like they did in the 1980s, this is probably the movie that they have in mind when they say that. Even though Steven Spielberg only produced the movie (it was written by Chris Columbus and directed by Richard Donner), it’s often seen as one of the quintessential “Spielbergian” adventures. I’ve even heard Ready Player One described as “Goonies + Willy Wonka”, and a rewatching of that movie is actually what made me decide to check out The Goonies again for this week’s review.
I’d say that the movie still holds up as an adventure today, even if a lot of the cultural references and some of the humor is now quite dated. While the main cast is not incredibly diverse (there’s only one person of color in the core group of kids, and only two with more than 30 seconds of screen time), it’s fairly well-rounded in terms of personalities and character types. The casting director also hit the jackpot, landing not only an established child actor (Corey Feldman had already been in Gremlins and two Friday the 13th movies), but both Sean Astin and Josh Brolin in their first screen performances.
This movie is also frequently cited by critics when talking about how movies these days are hesitant to put child protagonists in any real danger. And yes, there’s quite a lot of peril that these teens face, both from the increasingly elaborate traps made by One-Eyed Willie and the pursuing Fratelli family, who at one point threaten to chop one of the kids’ hands in a blender, and seem about to go through with it before they’re interrupted. The whole thing is definitely reminiscent of the first Indiana Jones movie, with the scale of the dangers toned down to fit the age of both the characters and the target audience.
I can’t really speak to how scary some of the images are to the average kid viewer, since I’d seen it so many times by the time I was a teen myself that I can’t remember my initial reactions. But I can see how some of the set pieces (Chunk being trapped in a freezer with a dead body, the pipe organ sequence, and all of the dead bodies on the ship, for example), might have been a little much for some viewers. However, I still wouldn’t hesitate to show this to someone in their early teens, and maybe even a little younger.
Of course, having watched a version taped off of TV so many times, it did strike me when rewatching it as an adult just how much they managed to get away with under the PG rating in 1985. There’s more swearing than in most modern PG-13 movies, the aforementioned dead bodies both fresh and skeletal, and a rather graphic closeup of a replica of Michelangelo’s David as the kids attempt to glue back on a certain “piece” that got broken off. They don’t even have the excuse that the earlier movies Gremlins and Temple of Doom did, as the PG-13 rating was introduced a full year before Goonies came out.
There’s also Corey Feldman’s character Mouth, whose antics were meant to be funny (and probably still are to a lot of people) but come off as crass and dickish to me as an adult viewer. These include fat-shaming Chunk into performing a humiliating dance when he first shows up at the house, and a scene where he takes advantage of the fact that he’s the only one in the house who speaks Spanish. Mrs. Walsh has hired a new Latina cleaning lady who doesn’t speak much English, and he deliberately mistranslates everything that Mrs. Walsh says to her to make it sound more shocking and obscene.
Finally, I want to bring up the movie’s treatment of the character Sloth. There’s definitely an argument to be made that it’s both ableist and – is “lookist” the right word? – about the character, who is kept chained in a room in the Fratelli’s basement until both he and Chunk escape together and follow on the trail of the rest of the characters. He is initially seen as a figure of terror by the kids, and as an embarrassment to be hidden by the rest of his family.
However, the character is ultimately a sympathetic one, and not judging someone by their outward appearance is one of the themes of the movie that the character highlights. Once Chunk gets over his initial fear, he becomes friends with Sloth, bonding with him so much that he’s willing to shield him with his own body when the police pull out their guns at the end of the movie. His treatment at the hands of his family is meant to paint them as irredeemable, and Sloth is eventually the hero of the film, saving the Goonies from his family and holding open the tunnel outside long enough for them to escape.
So yes, the movie might show its age in a couple of respects, but I still have great fondness for it, and definitely see why it’s still held up as a model for teen adventure movies by so many people. There have been rumors about a sequel for years, and I’d definitely watch it if it were to ever happen. Maybe my niece will be old enough by then to introduce her to it.
-I talked about how lucky they were with their child actors, but they also had some great adult actors as well. The Fratelli brothers are played by a then-unknown Robert Davi and Joe Pantoliano, and ubiquitous 80s actress Mary Ellen Trainor (seriously, she’s in Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Romancing the Stone, Scrooged AND Monster Squad) plays Mrs. Walsh
-There’s a 99.99% chance that the first time I heard either the James Bond or Superman themes was in this movie.
-Hey! You! Guuuyysss!