Robbie Coltrane, David James Elliott, Ingrid Kavelaars, Eugene Levy, Matthew Knight
(Monterey Media; US theatrical: 17 Apr 2008; UK theatrical: 17 Apr 2008; 2009)
When is a child’s imaginary friend NOT an imaginary friend? When it’s the star of Wilson Coneybeare’s woefully misguided coming of age comedy Gooby. Now, if you think that title sounds trite, or terrible, you haven’t seen this bad touch excuse for an ‘uplifting’ tale of believing in yourself and Great White North family values. Indeed, we have Canada to blame for this corrupt bit of kid vid dung, a drippy story about a young boy, a big move to a new house, and the lack of parental love and appreciate he gets from his way too upwardly mobile professional guardians. In order to compensate for the missing Mom and Pop affection, young Willy is visited by Gooby, the physical incarnation of a stuffed toy he played with as a youth. As you would anticipate, proposed warm and fuzzy life lessons ensue. What you don’t expect is how sappy, irritating, and downright creepy it often is.
You see, young Willy (the ‘so slap worthy he ought to patent his whining’ Matthew Knight) is quite the highly strung little boy - and to quote Fawlty Towers, he should be. Living in a fantasy world where his hyperactive imagination envisions aliens in the bushes, trolls in the teapot, and any number of hallucinogenic entities in the woodwork, he has developed a system of personal amulets and defense mechanisms to cope with his constant state of fear. The biggest of these is his comfortable old home - that is, until lawyer mom (Ingrid Kavelaars) and architect dad (David James Elliot) decide to uproot the brood and head out to the wooded suburbs of Toronto. There, Willy is so spastic, so caught up in a Don Knotts level of jitteriness, that it would take a miracle to get him through the day, let alone the dark and often stormy nights.
Enter Gooby (voiced by, of all people, Robbie Coltrane), a teddy bear looking orange ‘monster’ that’s more interested in getting its marshmallow cookie crave on than truly helping Willy. At first, our young hero has a hard time hiding the eight foot tall terror (?) from the outside world, what with its nosy neighbors, barking dogs, and snoopy English nannies (yep - Willy’s got one of those too, though for the life of Mary Poppins it’s hard to figure out why). Eventually, he beds the beast in a small shed in the backyard, and soon Gooby is passing out the fart-laced messages of personal empowerment our young boy needs. About the only pitfall in this road to individual fulfillment is failed children’s book author turned grade school teacher Mr. Nerdlinger (SCTV‘s Eugene Levy, who should really know a whole helluva lot better)., Desperate to be as famous as, say, Lewis Carroll, he could sure use something sensational - like the proof of a real living monster - to boast his profile. Guess who provides the impetus for such starclimbing?
You just know that Mr. Coneybeare, a mainstay North of the US border with his constant stream of live action brat fodder (Monster Blazers, Time Warriors), wants Gooby to be his ET. He practically wills this otherwise useless drivel into territories already taken by Spielberg and his far superior tale of a boy and his alien bud. Need a sequence where our oversized furball disrupts school? It’s here. How about a moment where Gooby and Willy fly through the sky while riding a modified bicycle? That’s here too. Need moments where both leads lunge back and forth out of sight of the adults. Ho-hum. Or how about an extended music montage where Willy and the literal personification of his already fragile psyche storm around the least crowded grocery store in all the Western Hemisphere. You get the idea. Gooby is so god-awful earnest, so desperate to be your home video best friend that it fails in the first requisite of said relationship - being worthy of such attention.
That Gooby is a facially inarticulate bit of bulk with a weird Scottish-American brogue doesn’t help matters much. With an F/X budget of about $20 Canadian, Coneybeare gives us a single CG shot of a two headed extraterrestrial, a lot of lame greenscreen, and a man in suit conceit so obvious that the only thing missing are some Asian extras and a collection of HO scale buildings to destroy. Try as he might, Coltrane cannot give the title character the requisite emotional leverage - there’s just no way for Gooby’s frozen face to register anything other than mild bemusement. The single scene where digital tweaks give the flailing fuzzbucket a fierce growl is so shocking, so abrupt in its animated anger that it makes the rest of the inert puppeteering that much more apparent.
If only young Mr. Knight were as tepid and tongue-tied. This is the kind of child actor performance that makes even the most ardent advocate of juveniles want to commit acts of abuse. All throughout the first half hour, Willy is like a walking Rorschach test - everything in his life reminds him of some hideous secret horror. As a result, he gurgles and whimpers like a puppy being punished for peeing on the carpet. When his Mom picks up a necklace containing a geode like ingot, he freaks. He literally yelps like a wounded gazelle and screeches about how said jewelry gives him the power to ward off evil. Clearly, Willy sees his future as either a Dungeon Master, a Renaissance Fair employee, or as a member of the straightjacket club at the local Sanitarium. Things don’t get much better when Gooby arrives. Between bouts of crybaby bunting, our duo delve deeply into the world of pre-pubescent social climbing - and end up falling flat on their pug nose wuss pusses.
If being innocuous were a crime, Gooby would cause Canada to reinstate the death penalty pronto. Mr. Coneybeare so clearly believes his movie speaks to the mind of a child that he actually retards his ideas to fit a low IQ dynamic. But if you need further proof of how worthless this movie’s wisdom is, the ending throws everything into a tailspin of pointless plotting, all to give us a father and child reunion that had very little to do with the set-up to start with. Originally, Willy was just a passive dip unable to cope with the real world around him. By the end, Dad is equally weak, ditching his post-Yuppie lifestyle for a stint on “sabbatical”- and since he can now see Gooby as well, he’s more than happy to acquiesce to the giant toy’s tenets. Even Levy, whose been known to lower himself on occasion to pick up a paycheck, resorts to the kind of unnecessary mugging that makes even the most potentially meaningful moment disintegrate. Zygotes unschooled in the way the world works might find Gooby entertaining. Everyone else we see it as a motion picture plea for help - and ignore its plaintive wails.
Rating: 5 WTFs