I have watched Stranger Things twice through now and the more times I view it the more references and nods I see to properties from the 80s that I LOVED. The Duffer Brothers set out to recreate the FEEL of all those movies we loved through the early 80s (War Games, ET, Stand By Me, Flight of the Navigator) without directly referencing those particular films. You get direct mentions for things like Dungeons and Dragons, The Millennium Falcon and a throwback snack like canned Hunt's Chocolate Pudding... but most of the more obvious references and tonal inspirations are there only at the abstract level. They are not ham-fisted, and the Duffer Brothers DO NOT make the mistake of trying to slam as many blatant nods as they can into their little 8 episode gem.
But the more I watch the show, the more I realize that whether it was intentional or not, The Duffer's have DIRECTLY copied many of the character traits of the seminal 80s kid gang classic The Goonies. I can draw a direct comparison between almost EVERY SINGLE character in the original Richard Donner film and their Stranger Things counterparts... This is going to be FUN!!!!
1) Mikey Walsh (Sean Astin) vs Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) -
These two characters are the closest we have to "lead" characters in these ensemble casts. Mikey & Mike (even the names are the same... see!) are pretty much identical characters. Around the same age, they are both losers in the grand scheme of the school social scene but very cool among their core group of friends. They are more brainy then brawny, relying on their heads much more then their strength during the course of the stories. Both of them are the driving forces in their respective groups starting on the path for their missions (The Goonies looking for One Eyed Willy, The Stranger Things kids looking for Will Beyers) and provide the framework for how the missions should initially shake out. The Walsh & Wheeler households are both homebase spots for the respective teams, They also both share an extremely awkward kiss with a girl later in the progression of their story (Mikey with Andy, Mike with Eleven). Both exhibit extreme braveness and courage to continue on when the going gets tough, and both stand up to their "non-believer" crews when hope seems lost and everyone wants to quit their missions (Mikey when he gives the "Goonies never say die" speech and Mike when he fights Lucas about giving up the plan to find Will). And they also have the same initials, MW. And they share a set of almost identical looking, clueless parents (you will see...).
All in all, an interesting start for our theory. Lets move on to the next comparison...
2) Lawrence "Chunk Cohen (Jeff Cohen) vs Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo)
These guys are so similar in so many ways it is scary! First off, the obvious comparison comes from the physical resemblances both characters have with each other. In no uncertain terms they are the "Chubby" kids in their crews.... the ones with a bit more cushion compared to their skinny team counterparts. They are also the funny ones... or at least the ones that deliver the funniest lines consistently throughout the adventures that both sets of kids go on. They share a similar shaggy hairstyle and both make interesting clothing choices throughout the stories. They are both talkers, willing to explain EACH AND EVERY DETAIL TO ANYONE who will listen... whether they should or not. But the biggest similarity has to be the discovery of the "Hidden Food". For Chunk it was finding the storage freezer full of ice cream... for Dustin it was discovering all the Hunt's chocolate pudding that the lunch lady was hoarding. They both go CRAZY when they find these caches of delicious snacks and instantly scream out to the rest of the crew on what they found. And both of these joyous moments are short lived, since these scenes also introduce the group to the immediate dangers that they will face: The Fratelli's coming back to their hideout that the Goonies have uncovered and Brenner's crew from Hawkins Lab that arrive at the school to retrieve Eleven immediately as Dustin finds the pudding! Another strong resemblance between these two particular characters....
3) Clark "Mouth" Devereaux (Corey Feldman) vs Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin)
Every crew needs a cynical wise ass to crack jokes, question authority and be an all around kink in the hose to any progress the team is making. Mouth and Lucas got this trope covered... well. Both Mouth and Lucas have no problem letting everyone in their crew know exactly how they feel ALL THE TIME... they are always quick to inject their opinion to the situation whether it is solicited or not. They are also the ones in the crew that will be down to take orders from the "leaders" who have a plan... right up until they think that the leaders are not doing it right anymore. Then they will rebel and challenge the established authority. Mouth in the wishing well and Lucas after the compass incident both are fed up with taking direction and want to deviate from the plan, and have zero problem verbalizing this to a group of introverts who don't always know how to express their thoughts into words. They also both have physical altercations that they need to deal with (Mouth with the Fratelli's and Lucas with Eleven) that show that they are much more bark than actual bite... but in the end both are loyal to their groups and will die for their friends!
4) Sloth Fratelli (John Matuszak) vs Eleven (Millie Bobbi Brown)
Wait... what? WHAT? Mike... have you lost you ever loving mind? Ok... hold on just a minute. if you give me a chance to explain my comparison of Sloth and Eleven you will see that despite extreme differences in their PHYSICAL resemblances the two characters may be more alike than any of the others I highlight in this article.
Lets start with the obvious, which is that at the outset of the stories both Sloth and Eleven are actually on the "bad guys" team. For both of them it is not really a choice... they are both "born" into their individual situations. Sloth can't exactly pick his family, and Brenner doesn't really give El's mom much of a choice in where she will be raised. Next look at the relationships that Sloth & Eleven have with the big bad. Ma Fratelli loves her baby boy, even though he might not be as normal as a parent would like. Brenner seems to be very compassionate to his little test subject... and he might even be her biological dad! We will talk more about Ma Fratelli & Brenner later, so lets get back to our beloved characters in this comparison...
The physical comparisons between these two are not plentiful, but a few things stick out to me. First off, the easy comparison is they are SO DIFFERENT from the rest of the crew they end up helping. For Sloth its the fact that he is an adult and looks so deformed. For Eleven it's the fact that she is a girl and has her head shaved. Both sport stark physical differences from the people they end up lumped in with. They both overcome communication issues and fear of strangers through things like food, pop culture and KINDNESS... and they eventually realize that their new found friends care more about them then their particular "families" that have been raising them. This causes them to help the groups overcome overwhelming odds in their particular scenarios. Sloth is also in a similar "Prison" scenario as Eleven, being held captive by the very people who claim to LOVE them.
Both Sloth and Eleven come to the group as outsiders and provide the group with exactly what they are missing to overcome their particular dilemmas. They do this by using their "strengths" to carry the teams to victory. Sloth uses his superior physical strength to overwhelm the adult Fratelli's for the group of kid Goonies that can't physically stand up to them (or their guns). Eleven does the same for her group of friends... these kids have absolutely NO SHOT against either the Hawkins Lab footsoldiers or the Demogorgon. And on numerous occasions she uses her immense powers to come to the groups rescue. She flips a bus, breaks guys necks and even sacrifices her physical being to banish the Demogorgon in the end. Both characters are complete selfless and loyal to their respective groups even though their ties to the "bad guys" run way deeper.
You also have to love both characters falling for products that they haven't been exposed to in their sheltered lives. Chunk buys his way into Sloth's heart with Baby Ruth candy bars. He can't get enough... and Eleven certainly has a predilection towards Eggo waffles, considering she goes full on telekinetic shoplifter to obtain them at one point. Just another fun similarity between these two characters that have been isolated from general society for so long!
And finally both of these characters final actions allow for the groups overall tasks to be accomplished. Sloth not only defeats the Fratelli's but he also helps trigger the booby traps that free One Eyed Willy's ship from its hiding spot. That means enough RICH STUFF to keep the Walsh's in Astoria, Oregon forever. By keeping the Demogorgon busy, Eleven allows Hopp and Mrs. Beyers the opportunity to venture into the Upside Down to rescue Will. This reunites him with the group, and all seems to be well in Hawkins, Indiana. Both overcome the odds to bring their groups victory... and they do so at their own expense considering the fact that when we leave off with both characters we are not exactly sure with what will happen to either of them moving forward. After all, Sloth's whole family are criminals that are taken into custody and he is a mentally/physically challenged adult who has lived a pretty terrible life as a prisoner thus far. Even though Chunk volunteers to take him in, that is not a given considering he is a teenager who doesn't really get to call a shot like that. (But if Chunk's family DID take Sloth, then it would be a lot like the Beyers or Wheeler family taking in Eleven... hmmmm). What will happen to him? And Eleven is physically gone, turned to dust alongside the Demogorgon. No one truly knows EXACTLY where she is or what happened to her...
5) One Eyed Willy (an old ass decrepit skeleton) vs Will Beyers (Noah Schnapp)
This one is more obvious than you think than you think. Of course at first look we see a man skeleton and a little boy, and we want to think "these two things can't possibly be similar". But in reality they both serve the exact same purpose to their respective stories. One Eyed Willy is the whole reason the Goonies set out on their mission. Without the prospect of finding HIM (and by default his treasure) then Mikey and the gang would have spent that 24 period packing up to move out of Astoria and saying goodbyes. One has to make the same leap of faith (albeit for a different kind of reason) that the search for Will Beyers brings the gang together and puts them in a real life game of Dungeons & Dragons instead of one in the Wheeler's basement. If Will is never abducted by the Demogorgon and imprisoned in the Upside Down, would the boys have ever been out and ran into Eleven? Would we ever see Jonathan and Nancy teaming up to summon the Demogorgon? Nope... just like we would have never seen Brand, Andi & Stef join the group and the Goonies free Sloth in their story without One Eyed Willy? Nope... These two are both the real treasures both groups so desperately seek out!
That pretty much knocks out the core of the YOUNGER stars of both projects. Before you get in a hissy, I know I haven't addressed Data. The Asian inventor is a key character in the Goonies, but I feel like The Duffer Brothers didn't include a Data-like character in Stranger Things because they didn't want the homage to be so OBVIOUS. There is a minority character (Lucas) and Jonathan & Nancy get pretty innovative with their "Booty Traps" when they are hunting the Demogorgon... so I feel like the Goonies character of Data is broken up among the rest of the characters in Stranger Things. Let us now move on to the supporting characters of the story:
6) Ma Fratelli (Anne Ramsey) vs Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine)
Everybody loves an antagonist... they are the characters that really drive the story and make us love our protagonists so much. The "bad guys" are what cause us to root for the "good guys". How popular would Harry Potter be without Voldemort? How much could you root for Luke and the Rebels if they weren't facing Darth Vader & the Empire? Batman is only as good as his Rouge's Gallery allows him to be... so the bad guy in a story is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL.
Ma Fratelli, the criminal matriarch and primary antagonist of the Goonies in the film, is a clear cut villain and absolutely scary as hell to the teenage good guys of the story. She is ugly, has a short temper and is no above implementing guns & switchblades to get her point across. Martin Brenner, the head honcho of Hawkins Labs in Stranger Things, seems to be a very similar character. We know from his actions that he is ruthless and will stop at nothing to achieve his goals... but his physical appearance is also a stark contrast to his competition that consists of mostly pre-teens and teenagers. While Ma Fratelli's old and wrinkled features differentiate her from the kids, it is Brenner's stark white DA pushed back hairstyle that provides the clearest physical difference between him an our heroes,
Ma Fratelli and Brenner also have really close familial & affectionate ties to the true heroes in our stories, Sloth & Eleven. They want to control and use these two sweet characters to their evil advantage, and they both do so using imprisonment and mental abuse. Ma Fratelli keeps Sloth chained up but one can only imagine that his brute strength has been used in many a caper in the past that his bumbling brothers were incapable of completing. Why else would Ma Fratelli keep him around? And Brenner wants to use Eleven's "abilities" to enter the subconscious realm to be a human super spy satellite. He claims to be her "Father" (he might actually be... that bit is unclear) and provides her care & warmth when she feels imprisoned by the rest of the Hawkins Lab staff. When Eleven accidentally opens the rift to the Upside Down inside Hawkins Lab, Brenner now has an even more important reason for keeping Eleven under his control... and when both of these terrible villains lose control over their "children" they take drastic measures to regain that control over them once again.
7) Brand Walsh (Josh Brolin) vs Jonathan Beyers (Charlie Heyton)
The big brother... another classic trope that is used over and over again throughout the history of TV and Cinema. The big brother that is way too COOL to hang with his younger siblings and their friends, and is also made to look uncool in front of their peers by these younger siblings. This trope was never more evident than in the 80s, when this seemed to be one of the running plot points in almost EVERY film & TV project. So it is not surprising that The Duffer's would include this type of character in their story. Brand is trying his best to be one of the cool kids in Astoria, but it isn't really working out so well. He loves Andi, but she is way to busy dating the rich douche Troy (we will talk about him a bit later). But to his little brother Mikey, Brand is a GOD. He is bigger, stronger and infinitely cooler than any of Mikey's crew... even if this ins't the case among his fellow HS peers. And nothing makes Brand more mad then having to interact with his younger brother.
Jonathan Beyers is a similar character. He is on the outside of the "in crowd" at his HS, and he is constantly forced to serve as a interim parent to his little brother Will and the rest of his friends. He also pines after a girl, Nancy, that is dating the local rich kid Steve (again, we will talk about them a bit later). Like Brand, Jonathan is a loner that is sucked into his younger siblings adventure against his will. Once involved, Brand and Jonathan become intricate parts of the storyline... and when the Older and Younger groups of teenagers ultimately come together to face their issues both Brand and Jonathan are integral in getting the job done. Both have their moments with their girls (Brand with Andy and Jonathan with Nancy), but will they ultimately end up with them? One thing is for sure, both big brothers truly LOVE their younger siblings (and by default all of their friends) and will do ANYTHING to ensure that those siblings are SAFE. Even if that means forgoing "Rich Stuff" to safely escape the Fratelli's or monster hunting the Demogorgon one on one....
8) Andrea "Andi" Carmichael (Kerri Green) vs Nancy Wheeler (Natalie Dryer)
They are the ladies that the older brothers are after... and they are the ones that date the wrong guy. That is pretty much Andy & Nancy in a nutshell. They are both good girls that are slumming it with rich douches (Andy with Troy, Nancy with Steve) and have a soft spot for the older brother characters (Brand & Jonathan) that are their classmates in High School, They each have non traditional looking best friends (Stef in The Goonies & Barb in Stranger Things) that are trying to steer them to making good decisions (that mostly won't involve Troy or Steve). Andy and Nancy both witness their rich boyfriends torture the older brother characters in some way (Andy watches Troy pull Brand on the kiddie bike in his convertible, Nancy watches Steve break Jonathan's camera). Both eventually get down with the cause and are contributing members to the overall success of the mission. And both become sympathetic to the younger group of kids in their story after interacting with them and their situations.
Andy and Nancy also make declarative choices to forgo their popular mates for the lovable losers. Andy does this when she sends the sweater up to Troy and remains with the Goonies, and Nancy does this when she chooses to join forces with Jonathan to summon the Demogorgon after stumbling into the Upside Down. In the end we don't know if Andy ends up with Brand, but we are 100% certain that Nancy ends up with the reformed version of Steve and is merely a friend of Jonathan's (for now anyway... lol). All in all they are very similar characters that end up key contributors to the overall resolution of the story.
9) Stef Steinbrenner (Martha Plimpton) vs Barb Holland (Shannon Purser)
Stef and Barb... Barb and Stef... have two characters ever been SO SIMILAR in both look and actions EVER? Martha Plimpton did a bang up job as the wet blanket Stef in The Goonies. You know, the homely looking teen who dresses and acts about 30 years older than she should... the one who follows behind her much prettier/popular hot best friend begging her not to make poor decisions, but then doesn't really intervene when the hot girl incredibly messes up anyway. That is good ole Stef. She is the moral compass of the group. And when you really think about it, Barb is pretty much the same exact character. The one who looks more like a young grandmother than a junior in High School. The one who objects to Nancy even talking to Steve, yet accompanies her to his house for a beer fueled private party where she is the 3rd wheel. The nag who begs Nancy not to drink or to go up to Steve's room... and who unfortunately meets her demise (or should I say probable demise since we don't know FOR SURE) while Nancy is knocking boots. Right down to their 80s style glasses and high neck frilled shirts, Stef and Barb are one!
10) Troy Perkins (Steve Antin) vs Steve Harrington (Joe Keery)
You can't have a movie/TV show filled with teenage protagonists if you don't have the rich kid/bully that is trolling them CONSTANTLY. That is where Troy & Steve come into our respective stories. At the outset they serve one purpose to the plot: Try to fuck the hot girl in our story and act as much like jock douche bags as humanly possible. Troy has Andy, and Steve has Nancy. They just need to hang on to them as long as they can in spite of their douchey antics... and neither can. Troy loses Andy to the Goonies quest, and Steve eventually loses Nancy to Jonathan in his quest to summon the Demogorgon. They also both have hardcore interactions with the "older brother" character in their stories, and are mean spirited to them because of the threat they feel that the older brothers are to keeping the girls.They try to physically harm them (Troy with driving Brand's bike of the road gag and Steve with breaking Jon's camera & also challenging him to that alleyway fight). In both stories the girls choose the group over the rich jock... but in Stranger Things we see that Nancy ends up with Steve (he does redeem himself towards the end of that story and become a contributing member of the team). We don't really know if Brand ends up with Andy... maybe Mikey ended up getting a second shot at that!
Also, let us not forget what Troy/Steve represent in relation to the rest of the characters in their stories when it comes to socio-economic status. Troy/Steve represent that people who HAVE while the rest of the crew represent the HAVE NOTS. They are significantly more well off than all of the others in the story, especially their adversaries for their girls. Brand's family is losing their house, and Jonathan's family is BROKE AS SHIT. Troy is the son of the developer that is trying to buy up all the land in Astoria for a country club expansion and Steve's house is MASSIVE compared to the other modest homes we see around Hawkins. Indiana.
*One last tidbit: The younger bully who is constantly breaking the Stranger Things crew balls and holds a knife to poor Dustin's neck like Ma Fratelli does to Mouth (or Kiefer does in Stand by Me) is played by actor Peyton Wich. His name on the show? TROY....
I am going to ask an honest question: Has there ever been TWO SETS of more clueless parents in the history of TV/Cinema? My god... these kids are running wild and all the parents are either clueless or just do not seem to give a fuck. But this is exactly the kind of parents that are absolutely ESSENTIAL in order for these two stories to occur... we can't have a bunch of do-gooder parents really locking their kids down and ruining all the fun!!! It is also quite telling how close to the LOOK of each of the parents we get from the Wheelers in comparison to the Walsh fam. The pops are both clueless and wear glasses, both moms have too much on their plates to deal with and sport sick middle parts in the curly coifs. All the personalities are also quite similar... and they both have kids named Mikey that act as the leader to their childhood counterparts!
I hope you guys had a good time with this, and realize that this is simply my opinion on certain circumstances between Goonies & Stranger Things that I just can't ignore. The Duffer Brothers did quite a good job in provoking think pieces like this one with their awesome creation. Sure, I left out a few key characters (Hopp, Joyce Beyers, the Fratelli Brothers, Data), but the reason I did so was because I wanted to focus on the kids and their enemies. They are the primary characters in the stories...
Even though the Fratelli's could easily be the blonde lady and her crew from Hawkins Lab (I gotta stop this article somewhere!)!!!
If you guys think I missed any or disagree with any of my comparisons, let us know in the comment section or on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter and we can discuss!
I had a big time crush on Kerri Green back in the 80s. She was also in Lucas with Winona Ryder. I thought the actress of Nancy was her exact look and type so now I have a crush on Nancy too. I love the 80s like you do and that is why I didn't want to watch this one at first. I didn't want to see those 80s tropes abused but from the music to the story to the titles to the story, this is a loving homage to the time and the movies we loved as kids. I so hope this is a one time series. I think they would ruin it if they try to recapture lightning in a bottle.ReplyDelete
I think you missed the point, its a homage to an entire era. You could draw the same comparison to a million 80's moviesReplyDelete
Congrats! You've written a smart post!ReplyDelete