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Monterey // PG // August 11, 2009
List Price: $26.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted August 3, 2009 | E-mail the Author
A young boy's favorite toy has magically sprung to life, retaining his teddy bear shape but at the size of a six-foot-plus linebacker, with the facial mobility of a stroke victim and the voice and mannerisms of a Scottish drunkard. This should be, by all accounts, a horror movie. It is instead a Canadian family comedy. So, you know, same difference.

The movie and the bear are both called "Gooby," which also sounds like a description for how you'll feel while watching. For Gooby (the character) provides us with a good idea of what a teddy bear might look like if designed by someone who's never seen a bear (teddy or otherwise) before and was given instructions over the phone, by someone for whom English is a third language. Also, one of those instructions was to make a creature so frightening no child would ever want to step near it. And then we get to spend our time watching this bear-beast-drunkard sing, fart, and do bad slapstick, although not always in that order.

Oh, there is farting in this movie. Not as much as you'd find in other terrible children's movies. Just enough to ruin everything, right when you think things are getting gentle and heartfelt. But that's just a reminder that you shouldn't try to guess any direction this story might take, because you'll always be wrong.

Consider an early scene where young Willy (Matthew Knight), whom we've been told has an overactive imagination, "sees" colorful monsters spring to life. Ah, you think, so this movie will be about a boy whose imagination gets the best of him, with wildly inventive creatures poking around every corner! Ah, I tell you in response, not at all; after the one monster pops up, there's not a single peek at a monster at all.

Then there's the soccer ball incident. Here, Willy is playing soccer, and things get all dramatic just as the ball is about to crash violently onto his head. Cut to Gooby at home, overhearing a phone call about an emergency at school involving a serious accident. But rather than spend the next few scenes dealing with Willy's soccer-inflicted head wound, we're carted off to a construction site, where Gooby, venturing off to the locale for no reason beyond a strained plot point, tosses us an unbearable collection of pratfalls and sight gags, culminating in a bit where he's dangling off the end of a crane. After this is all over, it's revealed the head injury was minor, and it's of no importance at all.

"Gooby" is frustrating, alright. It doesn't even really take the time to bother with the formulaic story it's whipped up for itself. You see, Willy was all sad at having to move to a new home, and his dad's too busy at work to notice, and mom's none too observant either, all of which causes Gooby to magically transform into a creepy, clumsy, childish giant with the voice of Robbie Coltrane. Willy decides he must keep Gooby secret, so the bear winds up sleeping in the backyard shed, but his hunger and stupidity lead him out in all the wrong moments, and what if somebody finds out?

The screenplay, by director/producer Wilson Coneybeare (no puns about the last name, please), rushes through much of this, preferring instead to spend a ridiculous amount of screen time on montages where Gooby trips his way through the supermarket, bumping into everything and making people fall down. After seeing all the oddly placed Quaker Oats products throughout the picture, one assumes Coneybeare had devised a scheme to set an entire screenplay around product placement opportunities. (Although I don't think the Quaker people got their money's worth; in one lazily crafted sequence, Gooby accidentally eats cat food, finding it preferable to the Quaker stuff.)

Later, Willy realizes it's Halloween, which means it's the perfect day to take Gooby outside for real. But rather than E.T. up the joint with a trick-or-treat scene, the film tries to convince us instead that Halloween is when kids wear their costumes all day while going to see slasher films at the local multiplex. We also learn that Gooby can move his face when he wants to, but he only does it to change into a toothy snarl to scare the school bully, who promptly pees his pants (although one questions his bully status anyway, seeing as his costume of choice is to be a giant hot dog), thus ending yet another a thinly-sketched subplot (Willy was harassed by the hot dog bully, or something) that's never mentioned again.

The Halloween scene also leads Willy to get "in" with the cool kids. As Willy hangs out with them, we discover they're just the sort of jerks we thought they'd be. Does this lead to the clich├ęd bit where Willy realizes the cool kids aren't his real friends, and he goes back to the nerdier friends he met at the start of the movie? Not a chance! Willy never talks to his old buddies again! (To be fair, the cool kids only show up one more time before the script completely forgets about them, too.) So remember, kids, what "Gooby" has taught you: the best way to be popular is to ignore the nerds and let some jerks pressure you into buying tickets to a horror movie for them. Out of your own pocket! Now you're cool, Gooby-style!

Did I mention Eugene Levy yet? Now we're getting to the truly bizarre stuff. Levy plays Willy's teacher, the impossibly named Mr. Nerdlinger. Nerdlinger (seriously, movie?) has a convoluted backstory involving his creating a series of published but unpopular novels that left him so bitter he calls authors like Lewis Carroll hacks just for being "famous." Nerdlinger is obsessed with fame, and when he spies Gooby one day, he figures the quick way to stardom is to get a picture of the bear. Many, many scenes are spent showing Levy mugging as he fumbles with his camera. Can Willy and Gooby escape his prying eyes?

Of course, most of these scenes involve Gooby out in public, surrounded by a crowd, and we realize the movie isn't even trying. It spent so much time and money on a bear suit that doesn't work (the mouth never moves beyond a feint wiggle) that it figures the rest of the story can just go kiss off.

The whole thing leads, inexplicably, to an abandoned apartment complex where Willy's dad grew up. The film tries to shoehorn an action sequence into the mix (it's as ill-fitting as everything else, so why not?), then spends the rest of its time cramming some unearned "Cat's in the Cradle" blandness down our throats. Will dad remember his own childhood dreams? Will Willy finally spend time with his parents? Will the check from Quaker Oats bounce?

By the way, the kids aren't the only ones who can learn a lesson here. Just like "Gooby" teaches kids how to sell out to be popular, it also tells parents that the only way you can have even the remotest connection with your child is to quit your job. Great! Now you have more free time to buy movie tickets for a bunch of junior high soccer jerks your kid barely knows!


Video & Audio

The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks decent enough, with mostly crisp detail and minimal grain. Black levels are richer than you'd expect them to be, although colors don't quite pop.

A 5.1 surround soundtrack is overkill for a movie of this sort, and the action remains mostly up front. The pop song interludes - of which there are too many - have a nice kick to them. No subtitles are provided.


A music video for Gooby's song "Invisible" (1:52; 1.33:1 windowboxed) - the same song and video that play over the closing credits - is offered in a stand-alone karaoke version. Sing along with on-screen lyrics as Gooby scares the hell out of Eugene Levy with a Broadway number!

"Fun Facts" (2:40; 1.78:1 anamorphic) answers all your burning "Gooby" trivia needs. A slideshow of movie stills plays alongside questions about the story. ("How big are Gooby's feet?" "How big is Gooby's shed?" "How did Gooby get his name?")

A gallery of previews for other Monterey titles is also included; previews also play as the disc loads.

Printable JPEG files of coloring pages, word searches, and mazes are accessible via your computer's DVD-ROM drive.

Final Thoughts

"Gooby" is such a mess of a story that parents won't be able to sit through it; the bear suit is creepy enough to freak out its young target audience. Skip It.
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