One thing I tend to think about a lot is when people will tell you how much they miss being a kid. Typically, they’ll say that when you’re younger, the world seems so much more carefree and easy. For me, however, I believe the idea of being a kid is easy is one of the biggest misconceptions out there. Childhood is full of problems, horrors, and drama. The biggest differences are that the problems of adulthood tend to be more mundane, and that most problems you encounter as a child are new to you, and thus more daunting than anything. They require you summon up something just as new in yourself, a kind of willpower that you didn’t know you had before. Those problems become more complicated as you grow older, and so does that willpower.
Back in the early to mid-eighties, a genre of film arose that wasn’t common, but almost always left a lasting impression. These were Coming-of-Age/Adventure movies. Movies about a group of friends, typically preteens, who come together and set out to achieve a seemingly impossible task, especially for a group their age. It can be debated when these movies began gaining traction. I would say the most likely candidate for really getting the genre started would be The Goonies (1985). But why is there so much love for these movies? Well, with the new adaption of Stephen King’s IT finally arriving this past week, I thought I would quickly touch on just what makes this smaller genre so special.
The early 80’s was a revolutionary and fantastic time for movies in general. Directors still fresh on the scene, most considerably John Hughes, redefined Hollywood by shifting the focus of their films from adults to the youth. Films like E.T. (1982), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Back to the Future (1985) were a welcome change of pace for audiences around the world. Of course, movies about younger people weren’t completely new, but the 80’s was the decade that truly breathed life into them and showed us just how spectacular and memorable it could really be. Most of these films however were focused on teenagers, who, while still young, still dealt with their problems from a mostly mature perspective. However, once The Goonies was released in 1985, the view had once again been shifted. Now, instead of teenagers, it was children who were given the task of dealing with daunting drama and adventure.
With the story following a group of children (and a few of their teenager friends) who set out to find lost pirate treasure in order to save their home from demolition, The Goonies introduced and/or popularized quite a few trademarks and concepts that are still used in movies like it to this day. First and foremost, the four boys introduce four archetypes that are common in these types of movies now. You have Mikey, the main character and “everyman”, Chunk, the reluctant chubby kid, Data, the tinkerer and genius, and Mouth, the overly-confident wisecracker who serves as the biggest source of comic-relief. These archetypes have been repeated and revised in almost every coming-of-age/adventure movie following it’s release.
The story also does an excellent job with it’s exposition. The children’s future conflict is first foreshadowed in the opening scene with the prison breakout and police chase. We are then introduced to our main character, and as his own personal dilemma is set up, we’re also exposed to our other primary characters. Once our protagonists and their motivation have been properly established, the audience is ready to follow them as they journey into the great unknown, and take on whatever threats or obstacles come their way.
The story structure and concepts used in The Goonies are the perfect examples of what are used in most movies in this genre, regardless of whether they were directly inspired by The Goonies or not. Movies like Stand By Me (1986), The Sandlot (1993), and Monster Squad (1987) all have vastly different plots from both The Goonies and each other, yet each one employs those same concepts that have proven to strike an emotional chord with audiences that very few can resist. Why is that? I would say that the main reason people love these movies is because of their ability to stay relatable through their naivety.
The majority of us don’t have a complete memory of what our lives and minds were like when we were twelve or younger. We have plenty of vivid memories, but a great amount of it stays hazy for us, and it is difficult to fully describe what our personalities and mindsets were like, just because they’ve changed so drastically as we’ve grown. These movies, with the help of excellent direction, writing, and acting, give their viewers a beautiful sense of nostalgia, reminding them of those times when things were newer and bigger. When our problems were much more intimidating, and when our victories were much more satisfying. This naivety makes the conflict more interesting for our characters, as the confidence and wit of someone like Indiana Jones or Ellen Ripley, replaced instead with the extreme anxiety and confusion we all felt when we were younger.
Most people can relate to one of the kids in these movies, or maybe they had a similar group of friends. I think we’ve all known someone like Richie Tozier, or Chunk, or Charles Kaznyk. We’ve all had enemies like Henry Bowers or Ace Merrill. Maybe they convey to you the awkward yet wonderful feeling of your first time falling in love. Maybe you can relate to the feeling of being isolated by adults, and being lifted up by your friends. Despite the popular belief that being a kid was easier, these movies don’t remind us of the carelessness of childhood, but rather the experiences that made it so important and special. Most people miss being kids, but many times, the times in your life you miss the most were some of the most difficult to get through. People love these movies because they’re so good at getting it across. They’re not kids movies. They’re movies about being kids.
Now around the mid 90’s this incredibly important genre unfortunately started to dwindle for whatever reason. Big budget CGI action movies and dramas dealing with much more mature issues started to take over, and to this day they crowd the market. However, recently, the coming-of-age/adventure stories have been making a serious comeback. Movies like Super 8 (2011) and of course the wildly popular show Stranger Things (2016) on Netflix are presented as loving tributes to those films in the 80’s and early 90’s. However, their popularity and praise, and the release and instant success of the new IT adaption, the genre’s future is growing more and more optimistic.
But perhaps it was for the better that the genre went quiet for so many years. Given their success, supersaturating the market with these films would have been all too easy, and would have more than likely lead to people growing tired of them. What makes these movies so special is how they remind us of what it was like to be a kid. So maybe this shouldn’t be a constant genre, but one that flourishes for some time before going quiet again. Every once in a while, amidst all of our stress with everything going on in our personal lives and the rest of the world, it’s nice to have these stories show up and remind us of a different time in our lives. Not a time that was necessarily simpler, but a time that was possibly more special.