The Goonies: A Hero’s Journey

The Poster…

“You what!?”

“…I’ve never seen The Goonies…”

“YOU WHAT?!”

“I’ve never seen The Goo-

“I’m leaving you.”

And that is how my partner of 9 years left me.

For a certain age group, The Goonies is something most have seen at some stage, but I somehow fell through the cracks. There’s no doubt that it is of cultural significance, however. In 2017 The Goonies was chosen to be preserved in the American Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” An honour that has only been given to 727 films (as of the writing of this review). Now that 727 may seem quite high, but that’s from 1891 until 2005 (Brokeback Mountain is the most recently released film on the list.)

I didn’t have too many first impressions of the film if I’m honest. I knew that there was a vague connection to pirates, that Sloth was a character in it, and that his catchphrase was “Hey you guys!”. For some reason, I also knew that there was some oddity in the editing about an octopus. My brain regurgitates the most useless information at times.

Hero’s Journey

The Goonies is a Hero’s Journey tale. The Hero’s Journey is a plot structure you’ll find in almost every genre. Why? Because it works! It’s a cycle, with each step giving the next part of the story.

  1. Ordinary World
  2. Call to Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting the Mentor
  5. Crossing the Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, enemies
  7. Approach
  8. Ordeal
  9. Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. Resurrection Hero
  12. Return with the Elixir

Ordinary World – The Goon Dock

Come on, guys. This is our last weekend together, last “Goonie” weekend.

– Mouth

The film starts off brilliantly, with a prison break and a brief visual gag, joke, or snapshot of each characters life as it is on this (What I can only assume to be) Saturday morning. A girl practising cheerleading, a boy helping his father with plumbing, the quirky inventor kid, the funny tubby kid who smears pizza all over the window. It’s a great way to introduce the viewer to these characters, as we get to see something to identify with or something to associate each character with until we learn their names. Not only that, the film-makers are showing us their ordinary lives, giving us something to relate to.

Then we meet our two main characters, Mikey, played by a shockingly young Seán Astin (Who also features in at least three more of the 100 Movies list) and his brother Brand, played by another very young Josh Brolin. (Another actor featuring in some other films we’ll be talking about)

We learn quite quickly that this is the last weekend that the boys have in their family home, as the local country club has bought the whole Goon Dock area out. And here’s something that bothers me. If this is your last weekend in the house, why isn’t everything already in boxes? Why is the presumably 15/16-year-old working out instead of moving shit around?! HOW CAN THE PARENTS EVEN STAND THE STRESS OF THIS AND OH MY GOD DO THEY EVEN HAVE BOXES?!

Honestly that’s the most unrealistic thing in the movie for me.

Gradually Mikey’s friends gather at his house, and there is definitely a sombre “Let’s have fun together while we still can” vibe to it all. It really reminds me of Steven King’s IT, which, although set in the 50’s, has that kids-during-the-summer-nostalgia coming off it in droves.

Call to Adventure – The Attic

(Translation: Never go up there. It’s filled with Mr. Walsh’s SEXUAL TORTURE DEVICES.)

– Mouth, again.

Mouth, the plumber’s son from before, is asked to translate as Mrs. Mikey-and-Brand’s Mom is giving a tour to Rosalita, whom she hired to help pack. (Because apparently her boys can’t.)

This little tour is excellent. It gives some brilliant comedic moments, all while setting up that Mouth has excellent Spanish, that the attic is a mess, and that Chunk is a clutz.

The boys, Mikey, Mouth, Chunk and …. Data…. all clamber up to the attic to explore and hopefully pack because they are moving out really soon AND WHY AREN’T THERE ANY NEATLY STACKED AND LABELED BOXES READY TO GO!?

Here we get the payoff of the Spanish/Attic/Clutz combo. As they explore, Chunk knocks over a frame that held a map. Mouth translates it and they realise it’s a pirates treasure map. A pirate called One-Eyed Willy.

*ahem*

I think everyone wishes their attic was this cool.

Here’s the call to adventure, the moment when the hero, mostly Mikey in this film, is given a choice to leave the Ordinary World and well, go on an adventure!

Refusal of the Call – Brand

If I found One-eyed Willy’s rich stuff I’d pay all my Dad’s bills. Then maybe he could get to sleep at night, instead of sitting up trying to figure out a way for all of us to stay here.

– Mikey

Ah the music is just class!” It’s at this point in the film that the story really starts, and so does the music of the film. My partner, who loved this film as a child, kept piping up during it telling me “Chunk is hilarious!” or “I love this part!” or “No actually this is my favourite part!”

On a note with the music, it really reminded me of a PS4 Game Uncharted 4, which makes me think that Uncharted 4’s soundtrack may have been influenced by The Goonies’ soundtrack.

Although Mikey is the hero of this film, it’s not him that refuses the Call to Adventure, but his older brother Brand. It was at this point in the film that I realised that Mikey and Brand have a very nice relationship actually, as the typical trope of ’80s films was the have the brothers at each other’s throats. Brand is fairly responsible, refusing to help the boys on their adventure. Brand is beyond convincing, so Mikey and the other Goonies tie him up with his own chest stretcher (another great set up and pay off, showing Brand exercising almost constantly) and set off, making sure to let the air out of Brand’s bike.

Meeting the Mentor – One-eyed Willy

Guys…I think I have a match. I’m sure of it!

– Mikey

They boys all flee Brandon’s grasp and end up near a lighthouse a way way out of town. Jeez the nostalgia from this. I literally only went on a long cycle with friends once as a kid, nearly losing my balance and getting run over (With two other boys called Conor.) There’s just something about kids on bikes in these adventure type films isn’t there? Jumanji, E.T., Stranger Things, It, and a personal favourite, The Pagemaster. (I just looked it up and… yeah, I watched that film with rose-tinted glasses!)

Meeting the Mentor is the part of the Hero’s Journey where our learns from an old master. Think Obi-Wan teaching Luke about the Force, or Hagrid teaching Harry the basics of the Wizarding World. In this film, the Mentor was a bit harder to find… as he isn’t alive. Nor do Mikey and the Goonies meet him until right at the end. One-eyed Willy is the Mentor, and he teaches them through the map.

Crossing the Threshold – The Fratelli’s Hideout

Mouth: (Holding his glass up to the light) This’ supposed to be water? Mama F: It’s wet, ain’t it? (Angry) Drink it!

How many times can I quote Mouth?

Oh wow I love this part. Crossing the Threshold is when the Hero takes a step towards the Unknown, leaving their Ordinary World behind. Usually it comes at some sort of cost, or with the knowledge that they can’t go back.

Here we have another setup and pay off when Chunk recognises the car he saw getting shot up in the opening and tries to warn the others. Chunk has been set up already to be a liar as well as a clutz.

Poor Chunk.

The boys make their way to the run-down restaurant, where they meet The Fratelli’s. Mama, Jake and Francis Fratelli were the crooks we saw at the beginning of the film. They’ve just straight up murdered two FBI agents and for fear of being caught, they don’t murder these four kids and pretend to be a shitty restaurant. And yet the lack of boxes in a house that’s meant to be moving out TOMORROW is the thing that irks me more.

Mikey sneaks to the basement, still hoping to find treasure, and comes across Sloth, who, let’s be honest, gets a terrifying introduction. It’s a good thing that Mikey sees Sloth too, as once the Fratelli’s get rid of the kids, and Brand shows up (Yay! Good on you Brand!) it’s the sight of Sloth that convinces the others to go back. They explore, find a money printing machine, do some detecectiving and find the real threshold.

The actual threshold moment.

Oh, I love this. Mikey finds the entrance to the caves through a grate under the fireplace and clambers down below. The threshold is literally an entrance to the Underworld! He must pass through fire and flame to go to the dank dark caves below. The Fratelli’s return, and the only way to escape is the fireplace. Mikey leaves, convincing his fellow Goonies, plus honorary Goonies Andy and Stef, to join him. They all manage to do so under pressure, save for Chunk, who is forgotten in the freezer with the dead body.

Poor Chunk.

Finding the Inferno and One-eyed Willy

Once the Goonie’s escape the Fratelli’s hideout we see a little bit of deviation from The Hero’s Journey, but not much. Instead of doing everything in order, our heroes go a bit over and back. The next few sections aren’t telling the film in order, moreso showing how each part of the Hero’s Journey is fulfilled by the film.

As storytellers we can learn a bit from this. Stories, when following a structure as clearcut as the Hero’s Journey, doesn’t neccessarily have to be in order. The next few steps in the Hero’s Journey are:

Tests, Allies, Enemies – The Caves of Astoria

Andy: I can’t tell… if it’s an “A sharp” or if it’s a “B flat”!
Mikey: Heh, if you hit the wrong note, we’ll all “B flat!”

This is one of the more exciting parts of the Hero’s Journey, as well as the film. Here we see boody booty booby traps galore. Traps are set by both One-eyed Willy (which the Goonies must overcome) and by Data (which the Fratelli’s must overcome). Boulders, Firecrackers, spiked pits, and the brilliantly video-game-esqe bone organ.

In the Hero’s Journey, we get to see the worth of the Hero’s allies, which is really obvious here. We get to see each Goonie’s worth, proving the need for Mikey to have allies. Chunk is busy recruiting Sloth to the cause, Data sets the traps that slow down the Fratellis, Andy is the only one who can read music to play the organ, Mouth has been proving his worth for ages with his translation skills, while Stef… she… Jesus what does Stef do?

Ah yes.

Amongst these tests, there is also (unbeknownst to our heroes) a test of character. When the Goonies finally make it to One-eyed Willy’s treasure trove (accompanied by a wonderfully mysterious ’80s synth soundtrack) they stand in awe for a moment before stuffing their pockets. One-eyed Willy himself sits at a table and in front of him is a scales loaded with gems, jewels and goodies. Data reaches for some coins on the scales but Mikey stops him saying:

Except that… that’s Willy’s. Save that for Willy. Take anything else!

– Mikey

Approach – UNDERGROUND WATER SLIDE!

Usually in the Hero’s Journey, the approach, or “Approach to the Innermost Cave” or “Approach to the Abyss” is when the Hero is at their most vulnerable and are in the lair of the enemy. In Dane’s Inferno, this is when Dante just enters the literal depths of Hell.

In The Goonies, we see the characters go down an incredibly safe and smooth underground water slide! It’s full of excitement and joy and giddiness and it really does invoke being a child.

Ordeal – Battle with the Fratellis.

Not everything can be easy for the Goonies on their Hero’s Journey, and here we get to see the Ordeal. Once they finally make it to the Inferno, and enjoy raiding it’s treasure, the Fratelli’s catch up at last. They tie up Andy and shove her off the plank, trying their damnedest to kill all the kids so they can claim the treasure for themselves.

The Fratelli’s stripping all the Goonies of their hard-earned treasure would have been so infuriating as a kid back in the day! Thankfully, an ally in the form of Chunk and Sloth arrive, and do battle with the villains and manage to escape.

Of course, the Ordeal isn’t over yet! As the Goonies swim away from the Inferno, Mama Fratelli fails the exact same test that Mikey passed and causes yet another boody booty booby trap. A cave in begins and the Goonies and the Fratellis all have to escape. As they do, the Inferno starts up in auto-pilot mode.

Reward, The Road Back, Resurrection and Return with the Elixir.

These last four parts of the Hero’s Journey kind of meld into one big ending in The Goonies, but that’s okay!

The Goonies and the Fratelli’s emerge from the caves on Astoria’s beach (The Road Back). Two policemen spot the children and call the police and the children’s parents. The Fratelli’s are then spotted and swiftly arrested, but Chunk saves Sloth in return, casually saying Sloth can live with him.

As the children are gradually reunited with their parents, they recount their adventures to their parents and a suspiciously quick-to-be-there news crew.

Just when the owners of the Country Club show up to force the parents of the Goonies to sign away their homes, Rosalita, the Spanish-speaking maid who was scared witless by Mouth, noses through Mikey’s things and discovers some jewels. (Reward)

Mikey’s father discovers this and proclaims the deal to be off, ripping up and trhowing away the contract! (Ressurection)

Finally, the Goonies spot the Inferno sailing off into the distance, and they sit down happy to know they saved the day (Return with the Elixir)

What Storytellers can learn from The Goonies

The biggest lesson The Goonies has to teach us is one of “Set up and Pay off” the better named cousin to “Chekhkov’s Gun”

I can’t argue with that.

– Chekhov, or what I think he’d say when reading this article.

Almost every little moment in The Goonies has some Setup and Pay off. We learn that Mouth can speak Spanish through a funny translation gag, but it turns out we needed him all along. Chunk is a clutz? He finds the map. Mikey is honourable? He passes the test.

Even later when Mikey absent-mindedly puts gems in his marble bag the pay off is that the Goonies do save the day. It really does serve as a great example of Chekhov’s Gun which states

If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired

– Chekhov, for realsies ths time.

Conclusion

This article is half film review and half “what can storytellers learn from this”. I’m not quite sure how I’d sum that up.

I wrote this because The Goonies is on my poster for the “100 Greatest Films”. So, does it belong on that poster?

Yes. I really enjoyed the film. It shares something in common with D&D for me in that I wish I came across both of these things much earlier in life, when I would have fallen in love with it even more, and had a long history with them. Instead, like someone getting married for the first time in the eighties, I’ll just have to love it from now on.

One down, 103 to go!

If you enjoyed this discussion on The Goonies please let me know in the comments below or on Twitter! 

The Goonies can be viewed on Netflix, or you can buy the DVD or Blu-Ray on Amazon.com.

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