“Our parents, they want the best of stuff for us. But right now, they got to do what's right for them. Because it's their time. Their time! Up there! Down here, it's our time. It's our time down here.”
Mikey’s scene at the bottom of the wishing well – which unified his fellow Goonies into finding One-Eyed Willie’s buried treasure – hammered home a point I didn’t officially realize until Sean Astin’s impassioned speech.
Friendship has been a deep, recurring theme running through the “When Can I Watch With My Kids
” column ever since we launched. We kick started this whole endeavor with George Lucas’s original Star Wars
trilogy, after all. Just think of the endless social circles that have sprung up in the tight-knit communities inspired by that fictional galaxy. Plus we’ve talked about films that weave their narration around characters who might not have made it to the end credits without help from the closest of friends, be it the kids of J.J. Abrams’ Super 8
or Harry, Ron and Hermione in the eight-part Potter
Richard Donner’s The Goonies
is a different animal. On the surface, it’s a Saturday matinee serial produced by the perpetually adolescent Steven Spielberg about suburban kids following a pirate’s faded map on a quest for buried treasure (or “the rich stuff,” as they call it). But if you break the film down beyond its basics, you discover the social, psychological and emotional reasons why The Goonies
appeals to the wayward, rebellious, disorderly kids of the late 1980s … and you come a little bit closer to figuring out why this classic has stood the test of time to become one of our cinematic treasures, our “rich stuff.”
If you grew up idolizing Donner’s imaginative adventure (as I did), you’re no doubt itching to share it with your young ones. So, let’s split a Baby Ruth, practice the Truffle Shuffle, take back our wishing coin, walk the plank, save the Goon Docks and figure out when you can watch The Goonies
with your kids.
The Discussion: “For You, It’s Good Enough”
I was obsessed with The Goonies. Obsessed. It’s one of the first films I can remember trying to somehow pull off of the screen and replicate in my own life. I dug an oversized Army surplus jacket out of my father’s storage and filled it with toys that, to me, mirrored Data’s inventions. I tried to convince my parents to vacation in Oregon because I’d read in a collector’s edition Goonies magazine (which, to my delight, was reproduced for the latest Blu-ray box set) that they’d shot the film there. Deep down, I believed I’d find the same caves hidden beneath a rundown, seaside restaurant, and my own spectacular adventure would begin.
The film meant a lot to me as a kid, so naturally, I wanted it to mean a lot to my own children when they finally watched it. But it didn’t. Not entirely.
We stumbled across The Goonies as it was starting one afternoon on TNT or TBS. My 7-year-old, P.J., hung with it for awhile, lured by the promise of pirate ships, a massive water slide, and kid-friendly adventures he could pretend to go on with his friends. But it wasn’t his cup of tea, and he moved on to something else before the film’s halfway point.
It’s a great reminder about the differences in taste – that just because you adored a film when you were your child’s age doesn’t mean it’s going to speak to them now. Or maybe my son’s just adopted. I need to have a serious conversation with my wife.
Red Flags: “The only thing we serve here is tongue! You boys like tongue?”
A recent viewing reminded me, however, that Donner’s Goonies isn’t a whimsical fantasy adventure for the whole family. Just like the kids from the Goon Docks, it’s rough around the edges, relies on biting sarcasm as its defense mechanism, but ends up being totally embraceable at its heart.
At least Donner sets his dark tone early with The Goonies, which, if you don’t recall, begins with Jake Fratelli (Robert Davi) faking suicide so he can escape his prison cell in a fiery jail break triggered by his sadistic brother, Francis (Joe Pantoliano), and their psychotic mama (Anne Ramsey).
As the Fratellis flee the police, we’re cleverly introduced to the kids who will step into the spotlight to carry Donner’s story (and foil the Fratellis' criminal plot, in the process). And that first half hour immediately sets The Goonies apart from, say, a Disney production. Screenwriter Chris Columbus isn’t afraid to toss in penis jokes, Mouth’s filthy Spanish translations, or Chunk’s abuse at the hands of his so-called “friends.” That prepares parents for the darker humor that’s still to come, whether it’s Chunk’s hand being slammed in a blender or Andi playing a pirate piano fashioned from human bones.
And then there’s John Matuszak’s Sloth, an angry giant with a Picasso-inspired face who, like most of the danger in The Goonies, is grounded in reality. The Fratellis are intimidating enough. But Donner’s early scenes with Sloth are downright terrifying. Young audiences are supposed to be as frightened as Chunk when they first meet, so that we all can be redeemed later by the heartfelt friendship formed between these two outcasts, these Goonies. There’s that work again. Friendship. I told you I was on to something here.
Green Lights: “Goonies never say die!”
So why do we keep coming back to Astoria, and the last-ditch efforts of these ragtag kids trying to save their rundown neighborhood?
Because from start to finish, it’s an absolute blast. Because Donner captures the effortless, unencumbered thrill of an adolescent quest, something Spielberg has been chasing in his own films ever since.
Because The Goonies eschews a typical Hollywood mold for its pint-sized adventurers in favor of a melting pot of credible kids we couldn’t help but love. Donner and Columbus covered their bases with overweight or undersized actors from different classes and ethnicities, meaning most of us could see pieces of ourselves all over these brave, young treasure seekers as they embarked on a wildly exciting adventure.
Because the Fratellis are memorably evil villains, and Sloth is an instantly loveable antihero (complete with his own Superman shirt).
And because that tune Cyndi Lauper wrote for the movie’s soundtrack – heard briefly as the boys jump Brand and escape for the coast – is so damn catchy in an ‘80s synthesizer sort of way. She said it best: The Goonies ‘R’ good enough for us.
It’s older than you think. As mentioned, my 7-year-old son didn’t relate to the kids on screen as deeply as I did, but I was 11 my first time watching and closer in age to the kids portrayed by Astin, Corey Feldman, Jeff Cohen and Ke Huy Quan. The parent in me was a little more sensitive to the humor here, while the threats in The Goonies – from an armed Mama Fratelli to a misunderstood Sloth – were far more believable than I remembered (though far less extreme than, say, what’s on screen in this summer’s Super 8, as an example).
I’d put the proper age around 10, which is about how old Mikey and his friends are when they set out in search of the rich stuff. Again, this is a loose gauge for parents hoping to introduce their children to The Goonies, and each child will react to certain things differently. But when you are ready to unroll the cinematic treasure map and start decoding One-Eyed Willie’s clues, that crafty pirate will be waiting.
For previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, Superman, and two of the Transformers flicks.