By Marc S. Sanders
You know how there are some movies designed for that unexpected thunderous rainy, Saturday afternoon? Maybe a Star Wars flick or an Indiana Jones. James Bond or Marvel? For me the best candidate is probably The Goonies, where the rascally kid in all of us comes alive, yearning for adventure like riding our bikes through the paths of the sleepy town we live in over to a hiding spot on the other side of the woods where a once long lost treasure map begins an unknown journey. Quick on our tales though are the bad guys with the humped back, crooked nose and clicking revolver.
Richard Donner did more for The Goonies than I think a lot of people realize. It’s no wonder to me that the film is officially inducted into the National Film Preservation Archives since 2017, the same year that pictures like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Ace In The Hole and Titanic also received their recognition. Maybe Donner had help from producer Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Chris Columbus. Granted, ahead of the age of cell phone addiction, these guys knew how twelve and thirteen year old kids ticked. The Goonies bond over insulting each other, shoving one another, telling each other to shut up and freely dropping the s-word. It’s a rite of passage. It’s how I bonded with my buddies at that age. Heck, I still maintain contact with my best friend at the time, Scott, and we still trade barbs like that even if we live over a dozen states away from each other.
Sean Astin plays the asthmatic leader of the gang, named Mikey. A son of actors Patty Duke and John Astin, he made his film debut with The Goonies, and I think it holds as one of the best child performances to grace a screen. He’s such a genuine little guy, who is passionate about making any last ditch effort to save his house and home town from being bulldozed by greedy golf course developers. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, Mikey’s buddies ritually come over to the house and with his older brother Brand (Josh Brolin, another celebrity son making his film debut) make their way into the attic and uncover a treasure map written by the infamous pirate from the 16th century, One Eyed Willie. Soon after, Mikey along with Mouth, Data and Chunk (Corey Feldman, Ke Huy Quan and Jeff Cohen) embark on adventure that leads them to the underground caverns of an old restaurant off the Pacific coast. Two high school girls, Andy and Stef (Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton) join the gang. Andy and Brand have adorable puppy love crushes on each other.
One Eyed Willie’s map supposedly leads to a treasure of enormous wealth that Mikey and the gang believe can save their small town of Astoria from being razed. However, there are inventive booby traps along the way, and the nasty Fratelli brothers with their cranky old mother (Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano and Anne Ramsey) are hot on their trail. The Fratellis are straight out of those old Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. They are hilarious with their bickering, and scary at the same time. Anne Ramsey was a special kind of character actor with her ugly appearance and craggily voice. It eventually even got her an Oscar nomination (Throw Momma From The Train).
We may know how the story will end up, but Donner, Spielberg and Columbus advance with one unpredictable scene after another. Reader, when I feel the height of suspense in a film, I actually tear up and I get a very nervous laugh. The shootout scenes in Heat (1995) and Lethal Weapon will do that to me every time. The lightsaber dual in The Empire Strikes Back and the snake pit scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark!!!! I’ve been watching The Goonies since I was the age of most of these characters. I still get this natural reaction when Andy has to play the correct notes on a skeletal piano to open a passageway. Each time she plays the wrong note though, a tease of impending doom appears. It works so well in the ensemble performance of the cast bellowing “Oh no!” and “Oh shit!” and “My God!” and “Hurry up!” Edited with the quickly advancing villains getting closer, and the pulse beat music accompanied by composer Dave Grusin, and you are so caught up in their escapades now, that it feels like you are there.
All these kids become your best friend quickly. Data is the inventor with the tripped out gadgets, inspired by James Bond, ready to set his own booby traps. Mouth is the Spanish interpreter who gleefully causes trouble and mischief, but Feldman the actor is allowed some tender moments as well. Jeff Cohen is like the Curly of The Three Stooges who gets sidetracked on his own adventure with a monstrous but loving, and sadly rejected son of the Fratellis. A chained-up ghoul named Sloth (John Matuszak). Cohen might have the best comedic moments in the film. When I moonlight in Community Theater, I still must remind myself that just once I’d like to audition with his hysterical crying monologue where he confesses to stealing his uncle’s toupee to use as a beard to dress up as Abraham Lincoln, while another time he used fake vomit to sicken an entire movie house. Hilarious stuff!
There are dropping boulders, rattling pipes, a waterfall wishing well, scary skeletons, that creepy piano, and fun water slides to circumvent around One Eyed Willie’s maze onward to his legendary treasure aboard the most spectacular pirate ship ever seen. Rarely are kid’s adventures constructed like this anymore. I dunno. Maybe it’s the script. More likely, maybe it is the cast of kid actors doing one of the best ensemble performances together on screen. Their timing could not be more perfect among the seven Goonies.
The Goonies is a much more honest and transparent look at how kids behave with one another than you might find in a bleached-out Disney flick. These kids get dirty and unsophisticated, yet thoughtful. They are not age 21 playing age 14. They don’t have fashionable haircuts and designer clothing. They are not pop singers trying to be actors. Most importantly, the conversations among the gang are more natural in pal around rudeness. You’re not really a friend unless you are telling the kid next to you to shut up and exclaiming “Oh shit!” when another encounter with danger lurks ahead.
The Goonies is just a fun ride to watch over and over again. It succeeds with its own interpretation of The Little Rascals, and it’ll give you all the feels as you watch Mikey plead with One Eyed Willie for the next clue, or when he stops to remind his Goonies that there’s more at stake than just a play date on a Saturday afternoon.
My advice is to keep the rose colored glasses off your children’s eyes. Let them know it’s okay to get in trouble and make mischief. Make sure your kids know they should be the best Goonies they can be.