The Goonies is a film that struck hard and never stopped resonating.
After a successful theatrical run that placed it amongst 1985’s top earners, the film lived on through home video and televised re-runs. It gets played so often on television that it almost seems like it’s on constant rotation—flip through the channels enough and you’re bound to come across The Goonies before you cycle through the stations.
At this point, the film has been digested and re-digested into nothingness. Ask yourself what makes The Goonies special and you might be surprised to find that you can’t come up with an answer. At least, that’s what happened when we asked ourselves that question.
So, what does make The Goonies special?
The cast is the first thing that stands out. Wrangling a troupe of largely green child actors had to be a challenge for director Richard Donner. Made with less deft hands, the film easily could have dissolved into a shrieking, irritating mess, but it’s a tribute to the talent of the kids that they were able to actually give well-rounded performances. Maybe it’s just luck that Donner and producer Steven Spielberg cast a batch of kids destined to go on to win Tony’s and nominations for Oscars, SAG Awards and Emmy’s, but the band of kids in The Goonies, even the ones who didn’t “make it” in the way of Josh Brolin, Sean Astin and Martha Plimpton, ground the movie with an immediate likability—even for people who, like this author, kind of hate children.
Another aspect of The Goonies that remains endearing is how surprisingly dirty it is—even by today’s standards. The first big gag in the film amounts to nothing more than an extended dick joke (“If God wanted it that way, we’d all be pissing in our faces!”); then there’s Mouth (Corey Feldman) giving false translations about sex dungeons and hard drugs to the family’s new Spanish speaking maid—and the mouths on these kids? Filthy.
Goonies represents a rarity amongst kids’ movies. One that doesn’t bother coddling its audience or sucking up to over-protective parents. While loaded with whimsy from start to finish, the Goonies’ adventure is fraught with real dangers, with bad guys that, as goofy as they are, come packing with a body count. It characters speak the way that kids speak—pocked with an over-use of bad impressions and curse words.
The closest thing to The Goonies that’s come out recently is J.J. Abrams’ Super 8, a film that sets a group of mouthy kids against an angry, escaped alien. With Super 8, Abrams tried to rebottle Spielberg’s touch (which is all over The Goonies) for largely nostalgic adults—complete with a PG-13 rating. If The Goonies were to come out today, it would be hard pressed to earn its PG rating.
Above the language and the acting, though, the thing that makes The Goonies work is that it’s a brisk adventure piece. It’s a film that moves from one cool set piece to the next, only occasionally pausing for air. Even though it scratches close to the two-hour mark, there’s little fat in The Goonies. It has a healthy first act that establishes the wet, gloomy world of Astoria, Oregon; taking its time to build the town’s mythology and then sets the kids loose. The first thirty minutes of The Goonies is up there with many of the great first-act movies of the last 35 years–up there with Dawn of the Dead, Ghost Busters and Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, come to think of it, may be the greatest first act artist of all time).
Guided by Donner and Spielberg, The Goonies is a an adventure film that knows what marks to hit and when; it takes its time to build up its world and its characters but does so in a way that doesn’t bog down the narrative.
That’s pretty special.