The Goonies is an adventure movie that was directed by Richard Donner and written by Steven Spielberg. Adventure movies with disabled characters usually rely heavily on special effects and typically use the character with disabilities as a villain or a burden to the group. The Goonies does not encompass these aspects which is why it has been widely celebrated for over thirty years.
The goonies were a group of four friends named Mikey, Mouth, Data, and Chunk. The goonies were about to be split up because their houses were about to be sold to a country club building a golf course. They were hanging out at Mikey’s house during their last weekend together when they found a treasure map and doubloon in Mikey’s attic. The map led the goonies to a restaurant owned by the Fratellis, a family of thieves. At the restaurant they are joined by Mikey’s older brother Brand and two older girls named Andy and Stef. In the basement of the restaurant they find out the Fratellis were running a counterfeiting operation but they also found a cave that led further underground. They decided to send Chunk to notify the authorities while everyone else went into the cave. Unfortunately Chunk gets captured by the Fratellis and tells them about the cave and the treasure. The Fratellis decide to lock Chunk in a room with Sloth before going into the cave to pursue the other children. At first Chunk is scared of Sloth because he has a very deformed head but after a while Chunk befriends Sloth by giving him a Babe Ruth candy bar. In return Sloth helps free Chunk and together they form the third party to head into the cave.
In the cave the Goonies encounter booby traps, puzzles, and dead bodies. There were multiple instances where certain group members wanted to stop or give up but Mikey’s leadership always got everyone to persevere and continue through the cave. Eventually they made it to an underground grotto where the treasure was on board a pirate ship. When they were gathering up the treasure, the Fratellis caught up to them, tied them up, and were going to drown them. Things were looking grim for the Goonies when suddenly Sloth yelled “hey you guys” and began fighting the Fratellis while Chunk rescued his friends. The goonies escaped unscathed but only got a small marble bag filled with gems. The police and parents found them on the beach where the Fratellis got arrested and the families found out the gems would be enough to keep their land.
The Goonies plot was full of adventure but the characters were ultimately what made the movie more entertaining rather than relying heavily on special effects. Each of the Goonies had an aspect that allowed them to provide humor and contribute to the plot. The three most memorable characters in my opinion were Mikey, Chunk, and Sloth which is very intriguing because each of them had a disability.
The main character, Mikey, is the leader of the goonies. This is made clear because he is the most motivated to save their home and inspires the other characters to follow him. During the movie, they all had a chance to leave the cave through a wishing well. This was soon after they encountered a booby trap and a dead body. Many of them were about to leave but Mikey was able to convince them all to persevere which kept the group together. It was never mentioned but one can assume that Mikey had asthma. This is made apparent throughout the movie because he uses an inhaler several times. Although he clearly has this disability he never lets it slow him down. None of the other characters in the movie ever even mention it. This is an excellent example of when a disability is present in a character but not the focus. When I think of Mikey in the Goonies I think of a character who demonstrates excellent leadership and optimism rather than a character with asthma. This is exactly the type of representation disabled people want to see in the media (Mairs). Mikey is an example of a positive portrayal of disability in the Goonies but there are also problematic portrayals with other characters.
Chunk was a member of the Goonies and he was obese. Obesity is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Most people would probably agree that Chunk is the funniest character in the goonies but he is also the subject of many jokes do to his disability. At the beginning, the other goonies wouldn’t let him in Mikey’s house until he did the truffle shuffle which involved him raising his shirt and shaking his belly fat. They also decided to send him to get the authorities because he was too “fat” to go in the cave. This is a problematic portrayal because they treat him differently and use his obesity as a source for jokes.
Sloth was a giant person with major facial deformities. He could be identified with multiple tropes that are commonly seen in movies portraying disabilities (Barnes). Some of these tropes that can be seen in Sloth are super cripple, object of ridicule, and pitiable. The super cripple trope is present in Sloth because he has almost super human strength. In the movie he is able to break the chains binding him to get a Babe Ruth candy bar and he lifts rocks that no one else can budge to help the goonies escape. The object of ridicule trope is present because his family, the Fratellis, keep him chained to a wall in the basement and mess with him. The pitiable trope is also present at the end when Chunk adopts Sloth. It shows that a kid needs to take care of him even though Sloth had proved earlier that he could take care of himself and others by saving the goonies. These are all tropes associated with problematic portrayals of disability; however, his and Chunks characters were not always being portrayed negatively.
Chunk and Sloth were both sort of outcasts in their respective groups, the goonies and Fratellis. This brought them together though and enabled them to form a bond that was mutually beneficial for both of them. Sloth helped Chunk realize his full potential which was to go into the cave and save his friends and Chunk helped Sloth stand up to his family. In the end Sloth and Chunk save the day, which means the able bodied people had to rely on the people with disabilities to save them. This was a very entertaining moment and is the opposite of what usually occurs in movies.
Although, the people with disabilities saved the day they did not get over celebrated. The resolution at the end was that they were all safe together and saved their houses rather than celebrating their accomplishments. At the end of the movie all of the disabilities were no longer in focus and every problem was solved.
The Goonies has been highly regarded for over thirty years. This is partially because the movie focuses more on the characters and it portrays disability differently. The characters made the movie so entertaining that wild special effects were never needed to keep me intrigued. There were disabilities present in many of the main characters but it wasn’t a story about them overcoming or submitting to their respective disabilities. Instead, the movie focused on the Goonies working together and achieving a common goal. Adventure movies coming out would be better if they create unique characters that are defined by important characteristics and roles rather than a disability.
Overall I give The Goonies 4.5 out of 5 stars because it was incredibly entertaining and it had an, overall, good representation of disabilities.
Thomas Bookheimer is an undergraduate student at The Ohio State University.