The now immortal rallying cry of “Goonies never say die” uttered by young adventurer Mickey (Sean Astin) to his band of fellow teen treasure hunters can’t help but echo the enduring appeal of this film. Thanks to endless Sunday afternoon television repeats and frequent appearances in pop culture, The Goonies (1985) has become something of a cherished children’s classic. While it doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of some of its Amblin stablemates of that time, there’s a rough around the edges, knockabout quality which lends it an undeniable charm.
Director Richard Donner (who would go on to helm all four Lethal Weapon films) never lets the action flag, and in the thirty-plus years since it’s initial big screen release, that fun atmosphere and the film’s acutely Spielbergian sense of awe remains intact. Released during a particularly successful run of Hollywood family-friendly wish fulfilment yarns when teenager were either travelling back in time or being whisked off to the far reaches of the galaxy (read: Explorers), the kids here were offered an equally fanciful, albeit earthbound, expedition to search for and unearth buried pirate treasure.
Viewing the film now the obvious Indiana Jones parallels are hard to miss. Adding to that mix is a video game-like narrative, which sees the characters navigate a series of death-defying challenges to reach a further level (this was around the time of the home console boom) and an attempt by scriptwriter Chris Columbus to pilfer from classic literature, fantasy or otherwise. We have the Hardy Boys’ derring-do spirit, combined with the swash-buckling exploits of the legendary Blackbeard (an obvious model for the film’s fictitious scourge of the sea, One Eyed-Willy).
There’s even a tragic Quasimodo figure in the guise of Sloth, an initially feared creature who turns out to have a heart of gold despite his formidable appearance. Sloth and his backstory are just one of a number of elements which would now be deemed inappropriate in the modern PC Hollywood family landscape. Mouth’s (Cory Feldman) risqué humour as he falsely translates English instructions to an unsuspecting Spanish assistant, and Chunk (a scene-stealing Jeff Cohen) being subjected to child-kidnapping and near torture simply wouldn’t make it past first ideas stage now in a Hollywood development meeting. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the film was endured. A younger, contemporary audience schooled in CG superhero destruction porn and slickly-made Pixar offerings may struggle to fall in love or even see what all the fuss is about, but the nostalgic glow cast upon those who grew up on The Goonies still shines brightly.
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