To mark the death of an era-defining director, WriteMovies’ LOST GENERATION blog reviews the enduring influence of THE GOONIES and Richard Donner – the director behind SUPERMAN, LETHAL WEAPON and THE OMEN among other famous movies. Our young writer and analyst, Jake Morgan, shares his memories of Richard Donner’s movies and explores what they have to say to today’s young people.
When Richard Donner passed away, we lost someone whose work still connects generations with how they felt when they were young. In his honor, I’ve revisited one of his most celebrated movies of his spectacularly era-defining career, THE GOONIES, which he directed in 1985. Seen by countless millions of children and their families ever since, the film is about a group of middle-school kids spending their final days together before their homes wait to be destroyed for a commercial building development. They stumble upon a mysterious treasure map of a secret pirate’s treasure and go in search of it, pursued by a dysfunctional family of criminals – the kind of adventure that any child could dream of getting to have.
Just before re-watching the movie, I was worried that many of my childhood movies from my past haven’t aged well for the modern audiences at all. Like SCOOBY DOO (2002), which was fine to watch as a kid but is best forgotten now. And THE GOONIES is over 30 years old; the 80s references may not hold up and the entire movie might just feel subpar against Netflix’s hit-show STRANGER THINGS, a modern day show set in the 80s with a lot of inspiration from THE GOONIES. So, would THE GOONIES still hold up for modern young audiences today? And, I’m relieved to say… it TOTALLY does! In fact I hope my 1 year old niece will be as dazzled and electrified by THE GOONIES as I was, when she’s old enough too…
Watching THE GOONIES as a young boy, the film drew me into an action-packed adventure to find hidden pirate’s treasure. But now I’m old enough to see it with new eyes, I’ve been impressed with the mature themes playing out in its parent-child relationships and generational differences.
Throughout the movie, the ‘Goonies’ (named after the Goon Docks they’re from) mention their parents in positive and reverent tones, during their crazy and wild misadventures. This hints at the parents’ relaxed attitude towards their unpredictable children’s misdemeanors and freewheeling lifestyles – crucial to free up the kids to pursue their adventure away from parental safety nets. Do kids today get to do that? Maybe not – but they wish they could – and that’s why THE GOONIES is still the stuff of fantasy for kids today.
The Fratellis family stands in stark contrast to this, creating the key force of antagonism in the movie for our heroes. The mother is an overbearing control freak, refusing to allow her sons to explore and create their own adventures. At any age, we know whose side we’d want to be on!
These themes are still very relevant to a younger audience today, as in this digital age, family values and relationships with parents are tougher than ever – and so is the personal freedom for kids to test themselves and find their own way to be. I think this film can still totally hook younger audiences today. These themes make the movie suitable for any age group.
THE GOONIES is also great for younger writers to analyze, as it is very comparable to the classic story paradigm identified in The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell. Looking at this now, I’m impressed with how well THE GOONIES stands up through a script analyst’s lens – we can see how this movie fulfils our subliminal yearnings for a story of this kind.
This is my breakdown of the story against Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY screenwriting paradigm:
- Opens in the ORDINARY WORLD with the kids in the docks.
- CALL TO ADVENTURE – The Goonies find out that the building group will demolish the docks unless their parents can come up with enough money. This starts the countdown of the clock.
- REFUSAL TO CALL – When ‘the Goonies’ show resistance to helping their parents.
- MEETING THE MENTOR – When the boys discover One-Eyed Willy’s treasure map. (One-Eyed-Willy is the mentor).
- CROSSING THE FIRST THRESHOLD – when they discover the opening to the cave in the fireplace grate.
- TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES – The traps and obstacles in the caves with the Fratellis family hot on their heels!
- APPROACHING THE INNERMOST CAVE – After the organ, which causes the floor to crumble, the Goonies discover an entrance to a cave.
- ORDEALS – When the Goonies approach the Innermost Cave, they face plenty more traps and obstacles, while also just inches away from getting caught by the Fratellis.
- REWARD/ROAD BACK/RESURRECTION – The gang are bitterly disappointed at losing the treasure to the Fratellis family, where they have a reunion on the beach to realise Mikey conveniently sneaked some treasure in his marble bag.
- RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR – The parents are in a position to tear up the contract of building development because the contents of the marble bag enable them to cover the cost.
Overall, THE GOONIES is still a classic today. It provides young writers with a clear understanding of story structure, while also presenting important themes and characters that truly make a great story. The action is exciting and tense, making it a richly enjoyable action-adventure and a prime example of Donner’s exciting action direction.
I came to Donner’s other movies later in life – at different ages watching SUPERMAN, the LETHAL WEAPON franchise, and THE OMEN (definitely not for kids, unless they’re the Antichrist anyway!). LETHAL WEAPON immediately became my favorite 80s action franchise – the buddy-cop contrasts it created were hugely influential, between safe family man Murtaugh and devil-may-care madman Riggs. Similar contrasting dynamics between the leads underpin so many other cop movies that followed, such as BAD BOYS and RUSH HOUR, and of course the buddy-cop homage comedy HOT FUZZ.
THE GOONIES and Richard Donner will always be staples of film history, just waiting to be discovered and loved by new generations all over again.