The Great Disney Blogathon: A Goofy Movie (1995)
|August 31, 2015||Posted by Jess under Adventures in Real Life, Cartoons, Disney, Music, Musicals, The Great Disney Blogathon|
Today we’re skipping ahead a few years to touch on a movie that, like Mickey’s Christmas Carol, isn’t part of the official Disney animated canon. It is, however, one of my all-time favorites, and as it’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this year1 – and as I spent a recent evening losing my mind over it – I thought it deserved a blogathon post to call its own. I speak, of course, of A Goofy Movie.
A Goofy Movie is a sequel of sorts to the 1992 TV show Goof Troop, which ran for 79 episodes as part of the beloved Disney Afternoon programming block. The show introduced Max, Goofy’s 11-year-old son,2 and placed him and the presumably widowed Goofy in generic sitcom suburbia for slice-of-life comedy shenanigans. Rounding out the cast was Pete, the bad guy from all those old Mickey Mouse cartoons, and his family: no-nonsense wife Peg, timid son PJ (Max’s best friend), and manic hellchild daughter Pistol. All of the shows from the Disney Afternoon are fondly remembered by my generation,3 but as someone who’s gone back and watched nearly every episode of Goof Troop as an adult, I can assure you that it’s not actually a very good show. The voice cast is fantastic, but the animation is sloppy even for an afternoon cartoon, and the writing is profoundly mediocre and focuses way too much on Pete in an effort to capture that Jerk Dad cartoon zeitgeist thing that then-cultural-juggernaut The Simpsons had made so popular.
But the show was successful. And there was something to Max, and to the idea of Goofy as a father. So the studio decided to age Max up to high school for a full-length theatrical feature, and we got A Goofy Movie.
And it’s divine. If you haven’t seen it – or if you have, but not in 20 years – run don’t walk to your movie procurement website of choice. In brief: Goofy, desperate to reconnect with his teenage son, drags an unwilling Max on a father-son fishing trip, unwittingly tanking his attempts to woo his crush Roxanne. Max can still impress Roxanne if he can just get to the Powerline (“It’s only Powerline, Dad, the biggest rock star on the planet.”) concert in time, but as he and Goofy navigate the perils of the wilderness and their own relationship, he learns that there are some things more important than being cool.
It’s a quiet movie – it doesn’t have the epic quality of its 1995 sibling, The Lion King. But it’s funnier and more sprightly than it has any right to be, and chock full of heart.
It also has…well, I think it’s a stretch to call it a cult following, but it’s certainly got its devoted fans, and has experienced a little bit of renaissance in the past few years along with other Disney Afternoon-related properties as the kids who grew up on it become more influential sources of nostalgia-driven profits. (Hey, I love Disney, but I know what side their bread is buttered on.) Which is probably a big part of why there was a panel celebrating the movie’s 20th anniversary at D23 Expo, the big Disney convention a couple weeks ago.
Now, if you follow me on Twitter, you already know that I was there, and in Extreme Disney Mode. (BFF Mackenzie and I paired it with a three-day trip to Disneyland to celebrate our spinstermoon.) The whole adventure was a total bucket list item and we had a great time, but the highlight was the Goofy Movie panel. It was moderated by legendary Disney producer Don Hahn (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and notably not the movie the panel was actually for), and included the screenwriter Jymn Magon as well as the bulk of the voice cast: Bill Farmer (Goofy), Jason Marsden (Max), Jim Cummings (Pete, and one of my all-time favorite voice actors), Rob Paulsen (PJ, and another favorite), and Jenna von Oy (Stacy). We expected a discussion of the movie’s genesis and impact, and we got that, but we also got so much more. I’ll talk about some of the bells and whistles as they become relevant, but I wanted to mention the panel here, because I’ll be talking about the panelists’ comments throughout.
Anyway, the core of what makes A Goofy Movie work is Max. Honestly, the title is a bit of a misnomer, because for all Goofy’s pratfalls and misunderstandings, this is Max’s story. Max is a bit unique among Disney characters, because he essentially aged in something very close to real time: he was 11 in 1992, about 15 in 1995, 18 and starting college in the entirely forgettable direct-to-video sequel An Extremely Goofy Movie in 2000, and bringing a girlfriend home to meet his dad in the equally forgettable direct-to-DVD Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas in 2004.4 He’s one of my all-time favorite Disney characters probably in large part because it feels like I grew up with him – I was eight when Goof Troop premiered and 16 when Max went off to college. He feels like a friend.
But he also feels like a friend – and he also works so well as a character – because he feels so real. Aside from a physical resemblance, Max isn’t very much like his dad at all. He’s clumsy and hapless in a very cartoon way, but he’s not prone to the epic disasters Goofy is; he doesn’t have an explosive temper or any kind of monomania; he’s not an idiot or a genius. He’s a totally believable teenager. Anyone who’s ever been a teenager can relate to his cringing embarrassment over his dad’s hijinks, his awkwardness around his crush, or his rapid but no less deeply felt mood swings. I especially love that he’s often not very pleasant; he’s frequently self-involved, sullen, or moody…just like I was as a teenager. He’s not a bad kid, but he is a kid, with all the highs and lows that entails.
Mostly, though, I relate to his yearning. See, the movie begins on the last day of school with a big musical number, “After Today”; while the rest of the high school sings about how great summer vacation will be, Max sings about how much he wants his upcoming Big Plan to be over and done with so that Roxanne – and the rest of the school – will see him in a new light.5 It’s followed immediately after by Max crashing a school assembly dressed as Powerline and performing an elaborate dance routine/lip sync to one of his hits, “Stand Out,” complete with smoke effects and rope hoists and all sorts of showy nonsense. It’s an impossibly catchy song (more on the music of this movie later), brilliantly storyboarded and staged, and even though Max gets caught by the principal, he’s suddenly the most popular kid in school, riding high enough on his triumph to successfully ask Roxanne out and return home in yet another effortlessly cool musical sequence.When I was a kid, I didn’t watch A Goofy Movie. No, I watched the above-described first act of A Goofy Movie, over and over and over again. I didn’t care about Goofy or his pathos or the special bond between a father and son. I cared about Max wanting so desperately to be noticed, to be special, to be cool – and for one shining moment, finally getting it. I cared about that triumphant turn in the spotlight where for once in his life, everything is going right. I’ve since grown to love the rest of the movie, now that I’ve put an adult perspective on it, but as a kid? “Stand Out” was everything.
All that said…now that I am an adult, the rest of the movie resonates with me too, and once we get out of the story’s first act, that’s as much a triumph of Goofy’s performance as it is Max’s. The panelists at D23 talked a lot about how the movie works because of Bill Farmer’s ability to draw a real warmth out of Goofy; Goofy’d always been a sweet and likeable character, but starting with this movie, Farmer gives him a depth of three-dimensional emotion he’d never had before.6 He’s still ridiculous, yeah, but he truly loves his son, and he’s trying his best. When Max shouts that he’s got his own life at the emotional climax of the movie, and Goofy shouts back, “I know that! I just wanted to be part of it!” it’s as cathartic as any more “classic” Disney movie. “You’re my son, Max,” he adds, very gently. “No matter how big you get, you’ll always be my son.” AND THEN I SOB MY WAY THROUGH THE ENSUING DUET, “NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU.” It doesn’t help that I was raised by a single mother; sometimes a family is just the two of you against the world. Seriously, incredible performances by both Marsden and Farmer.7
(I will say that the movie is very scanty on female characters. The women in the Pete family seem to have disappeared between Goof Troop and now, and we’re left with Roxanne and her best friend Stacy. Though both very charming, they’re given small roles and little depth. The panelists talked at length about how powerful a father-son story this movie is – apparently to this day people come up to Marsden and Farmer and tell them that it helped restore their relationship with their dad – but I did appreciate Jenna von Oy pointing out that it can work for any parent-child relationship. (See above re: my own attachment to it.) Still, it would’ve been nice to see more women in the Goof world.)
The rest of the cast is stupendous and the animation is lovely – if not at the level of its 1995 sibling The Lion King, it’s certainly polished and theater-worthy – but aside from Max and Goofy and their relationship, the strength of the film is the music. (EW has a great breakdown here, and also accurately refers to Roxanne as “the Shailene Woodley of the Goof people,” which makes me laugh every time I think about it.) It’s split about half-and-half between pop songs and standard musical theater. “After Today”8 and “On the Open Road” fall into that second category, as big showy production numbers that entertain even as they move the plot along and clue the audience in on the characters’ thoughts and feelings, as does the aforementioned heartstring-jerking “Nobody Else But You.” I also want to give a shout-out to the least-loved song from the movie, “Lester’s Possum Park,” which is supposed to be completely obnoxious and succeeds tremendously well at that, but also boasts some extremely clever lyrics, from the obscure Mickey Mouse Club shoutout hidden in “Well gather ‘round, my possum pals, and join the jamboree” to the sublimely ridiculous rhyme of “And every chicken, pig, ‘n’ goat’ll/ Help in yelpin’ out a yodel.” These are the kinds of things that delight me, folks.
And then there’s Powerline.
I already talked about “Stand Out,” which is my favorite, but “I 2 I,” the big showstopper that ends the film, when Max and Goofy join Powerline onstage and everything magically works out well, is also fantastic – a wonderful culmination of story, music, and the relationship between father and son as Max encourages Goofy to use “the Perfect Cast,” the Goof family’s secret fishing technique, as a dance move to wow the pop star. Powerline himself is a delight, sort of an amalgam of Michael Jackson and Prince fed through a Goofy filter…with, as John Grant points out, just an inexplicable touch of Ronald Reagan. (Grant also scornfully describes the Goofy/Powerline teamup in the final number as “seeing Fred Astaire forced to dance with the Spice Girls.” Grant does not understand how very deeply Fred Astaire dancing with the Spice Girl is the song of my soul.) There’s a small Max/Roxanne denouement that closes out the film, but “I 2 I” is really the triumphant final note.
So it was a pretty enormous thrill when Don Hahn brought Tevin Campbell, the voice of Powerline, out for a live concert to close out the panel at D23. It sounds silly, but you have to understand: this room included like half a dozen people already dressed as Powerline. Also, they stage-managed the whole thing brilliantly, with more dancers coming out after every 16 bars, some dressed like the ones in the movie, and a montage of Disney dance scenes on the big screen. This video doesn’t come close to capturing the excitement, but it’s the best I can show you:
A Goofy Movie will never be the biggest or most famous Disney movie of all time, but it’s special to me, and has been for 20 years. I’m so happy this panel happened, and that everyone involved in it was so lovely, and I look forward to loving this movie for the next 20 years, and more.
- Twenty years ago was a crazy time for Disney output, between The Lion King and their distribution of Toy Story, which would obviously irrevocably change the animation landscape. To have a movie as good as A Goofy Movie be the forgotten child of 1995 really speaks to how stupendous a year it was. ↩
- Some Disney fans argue that Max actually debuted early, as “Goofy Junior” in a handful of shorts from the 50s and 60s, but Junior, though adorable, doesn’t look a thing like Max, and doesn’t have that same righteous 90s vibe. Still, if you really want to believe they’re the same character, I’m not going to argue with you. ↩
- Except Bonkers. ↩
- Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas from 1999 breaks this trend a little because Max is only about four or five, but I think we can assume that’s a flashback. However, he looks approximately college-age in his only other animated appearance, as the valet in House of Mouse (2001), a truly bizarre show which I talked about a bit when I covered Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and that works much better with his personal timeline. P.S. I care intensely about Max Goof, in case you couldn’t tell. ↩
- Well, it begins with Max having what is basically a G-rated wet dream, but after that. ↩
- I met him the next day, and I defy you not to get teary-eyed like I did if he ever hugs you while talking in the Goofy voice. ↩
- And Aaron Lohr, probably best known for his supporting roles in Newsies and the Mighty Ducks movies, who served as Max’s singing voice. During the panel, a few of the panelists made a fuss about how Marsden, who can sing, though not necessarily at the necessarily caliber, didn’t get to do so in the movie, but I appreciated that Marsden stood up for Lohr, who is apparently a buddy of his. He and Farmer then performed a live duet of “On the Open Road,” accompanied by a semi-hysterical audience. SERIOUSLY THIS PANEL WAS AMAZING. ↩
- Please enjoy this amazing shot-for-shot live action recreation! ↩