You can recognise a child of the 1980s in one very easy move. Go to a crowded place and loudly shout ‘truffle shuffle!’ Anybody who watched The Goonies when they were a kid will immediately go to pull up their jumper to reveal their stomach and start frenziedly wobbling it, before they realise they are now actually a 37 year old chartered surveyor and should probably do a few more sit-ups.
Reviews for The Goonies were never as good as I think they should have been, but this was probably because most of the people critiquing it weren’t the audience that the writer or producer (in this case Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg, respectively) intended it for. The Goonies was, and still is the perfect movie for children – action, adventure, ‘mild peril’ (as I believe the warnings on DVDs put it) and puerile humour. Oh, and a tiny bit of romance, just so all the under twelves could shout ‘yuk’ and giggle at it.
I never realised (or in fact questioned) why The Goonies was called The Goonies until I went back and re-visited it. The starting premise of the film is that the area that the gang of about-to-be-adventurers live in is just about to be taken over by the nearby Astoria Country Club, which is looking to expand. This means that the local families will lose their houses and have to move away. This area is called ‘the Goon Docks’ – hence the name the kids (Mikey, Chunk, Data and Mouth) give themselves: ‘The Goonies’. Aha.
Michael ‘Mikey’ Walsh (Sean Astin, The War of The Roses and more recently The Lord of The Rings trilogy), Lawrence ‘Chunk’ Cohen (Jeff Cohen), Richard ‘Data’ Wang (Ke Huy Quan, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) and Clark ‘Mouth’ Devereaux (Corey Feldman, Stand By Me and The Lost Boys plus various others, although in the 80s it felt like he was in EVERYTHING) are feeling pretty down about losing their homes, and their neat little gang of friends being split up. They are holding out their hopes on Mikey’s older brother Brandon (Josh Brolin, 21 Jump Street) who is taking his driving test. They’re envisaging a last Goonie weekend with his car at their disposal; in their words, being able to ‘cruise the coast in style’.
But Brandon fails, and so their planned weekend bites the dust. Bored and miserable they start poking around in Mikey’s attic and come across something that will turn out to be much more fun (and slightly scarier, although that may have depended on Brandon’s driving) than a car ride. In true fantasy adventure style they discover a Spanish treasure map and a doubloon that belongs to the local museum. Mikey and Brandon’s dad is (until the house is bulldozed and the family have to move away) the curator there, and it recently held a retrospective that told the story of their town - Astoria in Oregon. Artefacts that hadn’t made the display had been stored in the Walsh’s attic.
Mikey tells them that the map had once belonged to a pirate, One-Eyed Willie (that’s not a funny name in the US, but I can guarantee that every child in the UK who watched this film definitely fell about when they first heard it) who stole some treasure and then sailed away into the sunset on his ship The Inferno. When the British king found out what Willie had done he sent his armada after the pirate and gave the orders for them to unleash their firepower on him which they duly did. Willie fled (this bit is suitably vague: how did he ‘flee’ from the middle of the ocean when he was surrounded by cannons? Did he have a jetski?), discovered a cave and hid in it, but the British followed, carried on firing on him and caved poor old Willie (stop smirking) and his gang in. Before they perished they spent some time digging a labyrinth of tunnels, and setting booby traps so that nobody else would make it to the treasure alive. The wily old buccaneer then killed his gang in what seemed like a case of ‘if I can’t have it, neither can you,’ but presumably at least one must have escaped and made a map of the location with the thought that he could one day come back and claim his spoils.
The Goonies are fairly sceptical; Brandon in particular writes it off as a story that their Dad embellished and used to help Mikey get to sleep, although he does mention that everybody in town went looking for the treasure when their parents were younger. Soon after, Chunk comes across a newspaper clipping that tells the story of Chester Copperpot, a ‘reclusive scavenger’ who disappeared whilst searching for the slippery swashbuckler. Before he vanished he claimed that he ‘had the key to One-Eyed Willie’ (look, enough now – it’s not that funny…) and when Mikey excitedly suggests that the Goonies should go looking for the missing riches in order to save their houses, the others question how they could find it if the experienced Copperpot couldn’t?
However, when the odious Mr Perkins comes to the door to deliver the ‘we want your land, get out your house’ papers for Mr Walsh to sign, the four boys make a decision. Slipping past Brandon (who’s been instructed by Mrs Walsh not to let Mikey leave the house) they head on out to search for the goodies.
Just to add to the danger, whilst following the map the boys come across a dilapidated old restaurant at the coast, which happens to be a hideout for a family of rogues, the Fratellis, comprising of ‘Ma’ and her two sons, Francis and Jake. Brandon, his love interest Andy (Kerri Green) and her friend Stef (Martha Plimpton) had been driving around when they’d spotted the younger boys racing past on their bikes, and followed them, confronting them outside the restaurant so the cast is now assembled for the real story to begin.
When the motley criminals leave, the Goonies step inside, discover that they’re up to no good and tell Chunk to go and get help from the police. Before he can do this the Fratellis return; the other kids manage to escape into a cavern under the restaurant but Chunk is captured by the hideous felons. The cavern is (handily) the next step on the map to finding the treasure, and Mikey launches into an impassioned plea as to why they should continue searching for it.
Chunk meanwhile is imprisoned alongside the previously unseen (and for fairly good reason) third Fratelli brother Sloth, he of the misshapen head and ‘wouldn’t-qualify-for-Mastermind’ intellect. We see their relationship develop from Chunk’s abject terror at first, to a sweet affection for each other by the end of the film. Away from this, Ma and her boys set off after the rest of the gang.
So this is where the Goonies go all Indiana. Willie did indeed leave booby traps protecting his treasure, and they are pretty inventive, testing the kids to their utmost and making it great fun to watch. In the midst of it all they find the skeleton of Chester Copperpot, and knowing that they’ve made it further than him gives them the impetus to continue. And continue they do, until they reach the resting place of The Inferno. Yep, the big ol’ ship. Not only did Willie ‘flee’ the British armada, he also managed to do so in a huge sailing schooner, and then happened to find a cave large enough to hide it in. Let’s leave that to one side however, and enjoy the final dramatics. Having found the treasure stolen by One-Eyed Willie (I’m going to ignore your childish chuckles now) The Goonies start to fill every available pocket with the gems, although Mikey, in a private moment with Willie’s skeleton, leaves some with him in acknowledgement of his status as the ‘first Goonie’.
So they’ve evaded death and found the rich stuff, now they just need to get back to the surface. As they leave the cavern the Fratellis appear and claim the treasure from them, before putting them in true kids’ film jeopardy: trying to make them walk the plank. Luckily (you didn’t think this would end in a gang of children being drowned, did you?) Chunk and Sloth have managed to escape from the restaurant and appear in time for a heroic rescue. The Fratellis are left on the boat, gathering up all the sparklers, including taking the jewels that Mikey left with Willie.
As they’re doing it you just have that feeling that it’s a bad move – and so it proves to be. Willie set a final booby trap on those jewels which causes the cave to start collapsing in on them. Our heroes find a conveniently placed hole to escape through and surface safely on a beach. They are reunited with their parents, leading to a touching set of group hugs, but regret from Mikey that they weren’t able to bring back with them any treasure and thus provide their families with the funds to save their houses.
And so we leave them there, homes about to be taken away from them, and the gang of friends split up….Oh, it’s all right, wipe that tear away. Of course it doesn’t end like that; this is a kids’ film so it obviously has a happy ending. A bag of jewels did make it off the ship with them, and in finding it their fortunes are saved. Cue more hugs, and as they are celebrating they see The Inferno sailing spookily away into the distance.
There are certain films that you have to be in the right mood to watch – scary, funny, heart-wrenching or romantic – but The Goonies is such a feel good classic (the right word is probably ‘romp’ but I can’t bring myself to use it) that any time is a good time to see it again. And ignore what I said in the beginning about having to be a child to fully enjoy it. I’m 37.