Every week, I scour Netflix for a movie rated at one star and put it in my queue, suffering through it for your entertainment so that you don’t have to. In the past, I’ve taken on anime cancer demons, softcore Iraq War porn and racist ventriloquism, and now it’s time to do it again.
STARRING: Good ol’ fashioned nightmare fuel.
One would think that a recurring role in the ridiculously lucrative Harry Potter franchise would pretty much set an actor up for life, but with diminishing screen time and the shift in pre-teen obsession to the also ridiculously lucrative Twilight franchise, it appears that Robbie Coltrane was left thinking that a solid gold luxury yacht might not have been the smartest purchase. Those things tend to be non-returnable, and when you’re best known for playing a dimwitted giant in a children’s movie about wizards, you’re pretty much left with two options: Start doing the convention circuit, where a constant stream of people who don’t blink tell you about your many erotic adventures in their fan-fiction, or knock out some voiceover work on a direct-to-DVD kiddie flick about a talking teddy bear.
It’s a tough choice, but I’m betting if he knew how bizarrely creepy Gooby was going to turn out, Coltrane probably would’ve stuck with DragonCon.
Focusing as it does on a child who is literally completely insane, Gooby is essentially a two-hour prologue to one of those ripped-from-the-headlines episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent where a teenager sets a hobo on fire on Halloween but it turns out to be the Mayor stumbling home drunk from a costume party. The future defendant in question is Willy Dandridge, a quiet loner of an introvert who suffers from hallucinations of alien monsters that he believes are out to get him. Writer/director Wilson Coneybeare clearly wants Willy to be a successor to Calvin (of “& Hobbes” fame), and while he got the overactive imagination and the talking stuffed animal, he forgot the part where Calvin doesn’t live in constant, all-consuming fear or harbor a grudge against his therapist for not aiding him against the monsters that threaten him in every waking moment.
Even more problematic than dementia and night terrors, however – at least to Coneybeare – is the fact that Willy’s starting at a new school after a move and he just doesn’t know how to make friends. I’d think that maybe that might come a little easier if he wasn’t spending all his free time on crayon-drawing pictures of monsters that wanted to murder him in his sleep, but to be fair, I was only minoring in psychology before I dropped out of college.
Either way, he’s joined by Gooby, a teddy bear come to life, and it’s at this point that the movie opens itself up to a couple of different interpretations. On the one hand, since we already know Willy’s bat-shit crazy, a six foot tall talking bear in a plaid scarf could fit right in as a complete schizophrenic break brought on by the trauma of moving to a new house. But on the other, as he’s seen by other characters, Gooby actually is a six-foot talking teddy bear, which means there’s no way in hell anyone’s going to convince Willy that the rest of his delusions aren’t stone cold solid fact.
With that question hanging over everything, the movie moves on to the standard kid-flick scenes (Gooby likes cookies! Gooby’s hiding from the babysitter! Oh no, Gooby wants to go to school!), but Coneybeare frames them in such a way that they come off as amazingly creepy, to the point where there’s not a single scene in this movie that doesn’t feel like it’s going to lead directly into hobo murder.
To start with, there’s Gooby’s life lessons, which include threatening a bully (and setting up the peeing-himself gag that’s almost mandatory in godawful children’s fare) and pretending to be Willy’s father on Halloween so that Willy and the kids he’s trying to impress can get into the R-rated Death Action 3000: Part 2. The message here is that it’s totally okay to lie as long as you’re doing it to be popular, although to be fair…
…those are some pretty cool kids.
Rounding out the carnival of horror is Eugene Levy, a man whose dedication to doing any movie that will pay him is actually pretty admirable. Levy plays Willy’s teacher, a frustrated writer that is actually named “Nerdlinger.” He tumbles to Gooby’s existence and then spends the rest of the movie following Willy around with a camera, and seriously, nobody involved in the making of this film thought a grown man stalking a ten year-old boy and trying to snap candid pictures had maybe – maybe – a little subtext they might’ve wanted to avoid.
The best (and most sinister) example of this, though, is the movie’s climax, where after a fight, Gooby goes away for a few days and returns, leading Willy down a set of overgrown train tracks at night to an abandoned apartment building where he reveals that he was also Willy’s father’s imaginary friend, before he was forgotten and discarded.
It all ends up working out okay, but there’s a stretch for a good ten minutes after Willy crashes through a floor and almost falls to his death while Gooby completely abandons him to go make vague phone calls to the elder Dandrige where the movie suddenly decides to follow the arc of a psychological revenge thriller.
And really, I think that’s for the best. With a few simple rewrites, a minor adjustment to the soundtrack and Coltrane heading back into the booth for a half a day’s worth of ADR, a slipshod, maudlin children’s movie becomes the deeply disturbing story of a fursuit fetishist living in a lunatic child’s shed and using him as a pawn in a game of revenge. That’s money in the bank, Wilson Coneybeare.
|Chris Sims is a freelance comedy writer from South Carolina. He briefly attended USC before he dropped out to spend more time with Grand Theft Auto, and his career subsequently took the path that you might expect from someone who makes that sort of decision. He blogs at http://www.the-isb.com and creates comics at http://www.actionagecomics.com.|