Featured: Top of Home Page

Hell is for Children: Gooby (2009)

If being innocuous were a crime, Gooby would cause Canada to reinstate the death penalty pronto.


Director: Wilson Coneybeare
Cast: Robbie Coltrane, David James Elliott, Ingrid Kavelaars, Eugene Levy, Matthew Knight
Rated: PG
Studio: Monterey Media
Year: 2009
US date: 2008-04-17
UK date: 2008-04-17

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





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.