Not being the target market usually doesn't affect my ability to review movies. But sometimes my poor little brain throws up its hands right from the get-go, and we end up with an experience like Gooby. How do you solve a movie like Gooby? From the jaded viewpoint of an adult, it's a leaden, mirthless fable of a child growing up, leaving his fantasy world behind, and growing to love his checked-out parents. Kids might be amused by Gooby's central conceit, a five-foot-tall stuffed animal come to life, but then kids occasionally lick the floor for fun.
Willy Dandridge (Matthew Knight) has problems; his parents are type-A business people with no time for him, they're moving to a big fancy house and away from his "only safe space," and he constantly hallucinates monsters and space aliens. Plus, he's about 13-years old. But never fear, Willy! Because your childhood toy - an orange stuffed teddy bear (monster, actually) - is about to grow into a human-sized vaguely Scottish monstrosity voiced by Robbie Coltrane. Gooby is here to protect you as you adjust to a new school, new bullies, and a new teacher named (wait for it) Mr. Nerdlinger (helplessly mugged by Eugene Levy).
As a cut-rate E.T. released thirty years too late, Gooby is basically a dud. Knight does an admirable job with a hopeless character: there's no basis in reality for his adolescent with an overactive imagination. So, OK, he only hallucinates aliens once in the movie, but his gee-whiz fascination with space aliens isn't given the proper grounding in emotional or chemical distress. It just seems weird coming from an otherwise completely normal tweener. Willy's sketched-in parents evince some believability as absentees - that is, their characters are cardboard, and Levy as Nerdlinger (I mean, really?) has so refined his apoplectic goon persona as to make it extremely uninteresting.
Mix in rather slow pacing, about three jokes, and a bunch of musical montages as Gooby and Willy race about inside grocery stores and the like, chased by Nerdlinger, and you've got all the wonder and humor of an advertisement for Snuggle Fabric Softener, drawn out to feature length. Scenes featuring Gooby settling into his new digs in a backyard shed show potential, but for what is unclear, as Wilson Coneybeare (writer/director) seems content to hash out a boilerplate plot just to get a feature (with a huge crew, mind you) on the screen. A little tepid peril in an abandoned building serves to root out a reason for dad to be so emotionally distant, and when Willy realizes what he has to do to figure out Gooby, sensitive parents may feel a knowing tug at their heartstrings. (Their five-year-old kids may start bawling, but what do they know?) Yet in all, Gooby's basically a big, fuzzy inanimate object.