One of the quintessential 1980s kids’ films, The Goonies is one of several that I am absolutely certain I saw as a child and yet have absolutely no recollection of seeing. But for most children of the 80s, this 1985 film is one of the most fondly remembered, and it’s a collaboration between three of the most renowned directors in adventure cinema — Richard Donner directs, and the story was written by Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus. Plus, it’s set in and mostly shot in Astoria, Oregon, so as an Oregon native, there’s even a bit of a local connection — as well as an expectation, locally, to have seen it. So I had a lot of reasons to cross this film off my “to see” list.
The Goonies are a group of kids living in “the Goondocks” of Astoria. Astoria is a small coastal town, at the mouth of the Columbia, two hours away from metropolitan Portland, so it’s a bit of a tourist town. While it’s never stated explicitly, this may have a lot to do with the driving force behind the plot of The Goonies — the banks are foreclosing on the homes of the Goonies, and the Astoria Country Club plans on buying up all the land, bulldozing it, and putting in a golf course. The kids are about to lose their homes, and the Goonies will be scattered to the four winds, possibly never to see each other again.
The Club’s agents wear overcoats, hats, and use umbrellas. Overkill. These guys are clearly not native Oregonians. Probably Californians.
The family whose house is focused on is the Walsh house, with Mikey (Sean Astin) and his older brother Brand (Josh Brolin), but all the Goonies are affected by the upcoming foreclosures. Mikey’s three friends are all known by nicknames, based on their personalities; there’s smart-ass “Mouth” (Corey Feldman), kid inventor “Data” (Ke Huy Quan, who later changed his name to Jonathan Ke Quan), and constantly hungry klutzy braggart “Chunk” (Jeff Cohen). While perusing the Walsh attic for something to do on their last day of Gooniedom, they come across a map that purports to lead to the treasure of legendary pirate One-Eyed Willy. The younger kids, against the advice of Brand, decide to shoot for the moon and see if they can track down the treasure and save their homes.
Goonies never say “die”. Or “ludicrous odds”, and not just because they couldn’t pronounce “ludicrous”.
The Goonies are eventually joined by Brand, along with his would-be girlfriend Andy (Kerri Green) and her friend Stef (Martha Plimpton), and the group dynamic settles into a dual-leadership role, with Mikey as the intellectual leader and Brand as a sort of “field leader”. Aside from Feldman, who by that point had already been in The Fox and the Hound and two Friday the 13th movies, this was an early film for all of the young actors. The only other one to have had a major part in a major film is Ke Huy Quan, who viewers will immediately recognize as Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Astin and Brolin, of course, would go on to become major stars more than a decade later, but this is the first film for each of the film’s main stars. Pretty auspicious beginnings, because all of the child actors do a great job, and while there’s the occasional flubbed line (Astin at one point calls Brolin “Josh” instead of his character’s name) for the most part everything they say is believable and natural-sounding. The stand-out of the cast, though, is Jeff Cohen as Chunk, who is both hilarious and immediately believable, so it’s a shame that this is his only theatrical role. He’s apparently a successful entertainment lawyer now, so good for him, but it would have been nice to have seen him in other works.
Not taking other film roles just means you’ll always be known primarily as the “Truffle Shuffle” kid.
The kids are the focus, but they’re not the only actors in the film, and the deathtraps set up by One-Eyed Willy aren’t the only danger the Goonies face. Introduced in the film’s opening sequence are the Fratelli clan, a murderous dysfunctional counterfeiting family. Character actress Anne Ramsay plays Mama Fratelli, who is boorish, abusive, and unabashed about showing favoritism for one son over another. She’s absolutely fantastic in the role, and is far more menacing (purposefully so) than her sons. Robert Davi plays the elder son, Jake, a bit bungling, almost charming (he at one point says he likes Chunk after hearing Chunk’s litany of confessions), but no less dangerous for all that. The favored son is Francis, who Joe Pantoliano plays with a weaselly demeanor that really brings the character to life. And locked in the basement of their restaurant — the same restaurant the Goonies are trying to get under to find Willy’s treasure — is Mama’s third son, poor deformed “Sloth” (played by John Matuszak under heavy makeup). Matuszak had his work cut out for him with this character, but manages to create a sympathetic role with just a few lines and his tone.
Between the Fratellis and Willy’s deathtraps, The Goonies has more than enough action to keep an adventure film moving, and the kids provide plenty of laughs as well. It’s no wonder the film is remembered fondly — it’s not just a good kids’ movie, it’s a good movie, period. Adults won’t find it tedious or uninteresting; at least, not adults who still have a strong sense of fun, and who cares about the other kind? And despite the frequent use of the word “shit”, I think most parents would be happy to have their kids watch the film as well. It’s fun, it’s not crude (the swearing is only in appropriate emotional reactions), and while it’s not preachy, it even has a few moral lessons by way of example. The Goonies succeed because they care about each other, work together, and work things through in the proper way. The Fratellis fail because they’re constantly fighting each other, and are completely self-interested. Their ultimate downfall even comes as a direct result of Mama Fratelli not respecting Willy the way Mikey did.
When a man builds elaborate Rube Goldberg-style deathtraps that hold up for hundreds of years, you better show some respect.
A true “80s classic”, The Goonies is a very good film, and I’m glad to finally be able to say I’ve seen it and remember it. One question for those of you who own this on DVD, though (I only have a digital RoxioNow copy); there are a couple lines in the end that refer to events that weren’t shown in the theatrical release, and are apparently deleted scenes. Are these scenes included on the DVD, and if so, are they incorporated back into the film proper, or just extras in the bonus features?