June 11, 2015

Goonies never say die

By Jenny Valentish
Goonies never say die
Mia and Tom Humphreys
How does the classic adventure film hold up for a new generation?

In the Romantic period, nostalgia was thought of as a melancholic medical condition, but in the age of Netflix and DVD special editions, it’s nothing but a blessing. The news that The Goonies 2 may finally be under way, for instance, shouldn’t darken anyone’s countenance, nor should the 30th anniversary of the original.

Back in 1985, The Goonies bagged $61.4 million at the box office. The romp had Steven Spielberg on board as executive producer and bore all the hallmarks of the Indiana Jones films he directed – ingenious booby traps, breakneck action and an improbable plot. Any notion that ’80s kids had of joining the Famous Five were swiftly ousted in favour of the Goonies gang, whose playground was the ramshackle “goon docks” of Astoria, Oregon, and whose mission was to find pirate gold.

Pirates were big in Hollywood right up until the 1950s, when Errol Flynn hung up his cutlass. Spielberg was just old enough to catch their last wave, and the rogues of the high seas are a constant theme in his work, from 1991’s Hook (based on the pirates of Peter Pan), to 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull – in which John Hurt’s character, Professor Oxley, was based on Ben Gunn from Treasure Island – and, of course, The Goonies. But are today’s children similarly obsessed, or do the illicit treasures of Pirate Bay give more swash for their buckle?


The players

Goon bag: Jenny Valentish, 40 years old

Goonie grommets: Mia and Tom Humphreys, 10 years old

Mia and Tom Humphreys from Terrigal, NSW, agree to watch The Goonies with me and speak the truth. They’re 10 years old, the same age I was when the film first came out, and roughly the same age as the lead actors. Mia is a dystopian tragedienne, loving all things Hunger Games and Divergent. Tom is a fan of adventure flicks such as Zathura and How to Train your Dragon.


On the Goonie gang

A good start here. The rapport of the wisecracking child stars is obvious, as is their delight at stampeding around a set built from water slides and a full-sized pirate ship. According to the DVD extras, a lot of the excitable expletives are real (“They say ‘shit’ a lot,” notes Mia primly), and if an amazed reaction shot was ever lacking, director Richard Donner would just tell the kids that Michael Jackson was going to come on set.

Tom reckons the boys all seem “pretty normal” and not too different from his own group of friends.

“That’s Sam from The Lord of the Rings,” he notes with approval of the young Sean Aston, playing the protagonist Mikey. Mikey’s the Ventolin-huffing kid who never gives up on dreams – and he’s pretty dreamy himself, unless you go for his boofhead big brother, Brand (Josh Brolin). You’re obviously supposed to pick one of the two to fancy, but Mia instead plumps for Mouth (Corey Feldman) – the smart-arse brat who’s probably psychologically damaged and is liable to wind up the subject of a Vice magazine investigation in decades to come.

The gang is rounded out by Data (Jonathan Ke Quan) and Chunk (Jeff Cohen). Ke Quan’s promising movie career – including being cast as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – petered out and he moved to Australia in the 1990s to start a music career. Cohen became a handsome entertainment lawyer and has authored a book inspired by Machiavelli, The Dealmaker’s 10 Commandments.


On the political incorrectness

Mia and Tom don’t comment on the stereotypical tech-geek Asian kid or the Mexican home help who is tormented by Mouth, but they are upset by the treatment of the overweight Chunk. They think the Hawaiian shirt and plaid pants he wears are “cruel and humiliating”, and they’re appalled by the “truffle shuffle” dance that the other kids make him do. Jeff Cohen has complained that as Chunk he had to eat junk food constantly on set; and on that note, product placement of both Pepsi and Domino’s Pizza is prominent throughout.

Cheerful as he remains, it’s still small wonder that the picked-upon Chunk is the Goonie who befriends the mentally disabled and physically deformed Sloth, whom the villains keep chained up beneath their Italian restaurant. Played by two-metre-tall John Matuszak – whose NFL career included winning two Super Bowls with the Oakland Raiders before he died of a painkiller overdose – Sloth has a misshapen head and googly eyes. Was that really necessary? Even back in 1985, we kids knew not to stick our tongues in our chins in the playground.


On the scary factor

There’s a complaint at this point that the bad guys in The Goonies are more comical than scary. Mia points out that the Hunger Games villains are genuinely chilling.

The actors playing the sinister Fratelli family were the names that 1985 moviegoers might recognise. Robert Davi, now a veteran of some 140 movies, was best remembered for playing baddies to sinister effect. His character, Jake, frequently burst into opera, which in hindsight doesn’t seem too surprising now that Davi has a global career as a crooner. Joe Pantoliano, another serial baddie, has become best known for his role as Cypher in The Matrix. The formidable Mama Fratelli was played by Anne Ramsey, who had slurred speech in the film from the oesophageal cancer she’d endured, which later killed her.


On the feminist doctrine

Mia just can’t relate to heroines Andy (Kerri Green) and Stef (Martha Plimpton). She pronounces them “lame dorks,” not nearly as kick-arse as the heroines she’s used to. It’s true that Green, as the pretty ditz, spends most of the film with a camera following her for an up-skirt shot (very Indiana Jones), but plain, short-haired Stef has a way with a sour one-liner.

In real life, Plimpton was a 14-year-old Calvin Klein model from a showbiz family who had a tendency to play slackers. In The Goonies she keeps her lips to herself, which Tom is relieved by – he’s grossed out enough by the romance between Andy and Brand as it is. Should somebody warn Andy that Brand has inflated condoms hanging off the weight-lifting equipment in his bedroom? (I never noticed that the first time around, and thankfully neither do Tom and Mia.)


On the sets

The possibly forthcoming Goonies 2 is thought to feature much of the 1985 cast, but Chris Columbus, who wrote the original, has indicated that it won’t be ruined by CGI wizardry. (Hopefully nor will the sequel to Gremlins, which he’s set to produce.) Part of the beauty of The Goonies was the use of Rube Goldberg machines for the pirate One Eyed Willy’s kinetic booby traps – which Indiana Jones fans will also appreciate.

Crunch time – do the kids agree this is neato? Tom reckons some more explosions wouldn’t go amiss, but “the gadgets were pretty good”. Mia feels that the bat scene looked like “rubber ones being waved around”. Both agree, though, that for an “old movie”, the sets with underground islands, a pirate ship and a labyrinth of tunnels looked pretty good.


In conclusion

“They enjoyed it more than they thought they would,” I’m assured by Mia and Tom’s mum, Nikki McWatters. Tom still prefers Zathura because it has “better special effects and the acting was more believable and the jokes were funnier,” so he gives The Goonies a 6 out of 10. Mia says The Hunger Games was more realistic, but awards it 7 out of 10. Both said they would recommend it to their friends because it was kind of exciting.

I’ll say. It’s not just me – even the cast and crew are still misty-eyed about this film. Director Richard Donner described it to Empire magazine as the best experience of his life (then again, he did bring us The Omen) and Josh Brolin described Spielberg on set as a little kid in a candy store. Corey Feldman, who fell victim to all the usual child stardom trappings, recalls it, somewhat tragically, as “the fondest experience of my childhood”. The motto “Goonies never say die” may still be the albatross around that young pirate’s neck.

Jenny Valentish

Jenny Valentish is a journalist and novelist, and the author of Woman of Substances. Her latest book is Everything Harder Than Everyone Else.

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