Saturday, April 6, 2013

Disney Canon Detour: Goofy Shorts

As I've gotten older, I've come to identify most with Donald Duck, but when I was a child, my favorite Disney character was by far Goofy. I guess that's not a big surprise, since Goofy is an incredibly lovable character and one that can easily appeal to children. He is, as his name suggests, pretty dumb. But he is also incredibly kind-hearted and noble. He can get into situations that allow him to be as funny as Donald Duck while still being as noble and righteous as Mickey. He is both funny and a good guy. 

Goofy's history can be traced back to a 1932 short called Mickey's Revue, which focuses on Mickey, Minnie and his friends putting on a musical show. Among the crowd members that are watching Mickey's show is a character retroactively identified as "Dippy Dawg" who is pretty much an early version of Goofy. In this early appearance, he was considerably older and had a white beard. However, Dippy did sported Goofy's recognizable laugh. 

A younger version of Dippy Dawg first appeared later that year. Soon, Dippy was part of the supporting cast in the Mickey Mouse shorts alongside such characters as Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar (Curiosly, in The Band Concert, Goofy appears alongside another character reminiscent of Dippy.) 

Probably what made Goofy stand the test of time better than these other characters is the fact that he was teamed with Mickey and Donald in 1935's Mickey's Service Station. Goofy's dimwitted attitude alongside Mickey's straight man and Donald's short temper made them a winning team. The trio proved to be a successful combination and many of the shorts made in this era are regarded as some of the company's best work and I would agree. They are definitely amongst the funniest shorts in Disney's catalogue. Lonesome Ghosts and Clock Cleaners (both from 1937) are regarded as the masterpieces of this period, but take a look as this other gem, named Mickey's Trailer. 

The trio was so popular and worked so well that cartoons featuring all three characters were much popular than those featuring just Mickey, something that prompted Disney to release a number of cartoons featuring only Donald and Goofy. Besides solidifying Goofy's popularity, the trio period also established Goofy's good-spirited fool personality, for which he is known until this day. As Mickey's popularity diminished in those years and Donald and Goofy started to appear in shorts as a duo, the years of the trio were finished. Tugboat Mickey, released in 1940, would be the last appearance of the three characters as a team. 

The following decades would see Goofy starring in a series of shorts that started to play with structure and form. In the 1940s, he starred in is known as the How To... series. According to Leonard Maltin, by this poing in time Pinto Colvig, who provided the voice of Goofy had left the studio. Without the voice talent, the animators decided to create shorts using a narrator, so that Goofy would have little dialogue. The How To... series was, as you might have already deduced, a series of spoofs on instructional videos. The narrator would explain what it took to, for example, ride a horse and Goofy would demonstrate it (usually in a clumsy or inept manner).

The format was clearly different from what Goofy had been used for in the past and also pretty different to most cartoons made at the time. The simplicity of the structure is apparent, but it is also a dynamic that opens up endless gag possibilites, which makes the How To... cartoons mostly very funny. What's more, beyond the format change, the 1942 cartoon named How to Play Baseball presented another milestone, in it every character was played by Goofy (or a version of Goofy, to be more precise). This is a somewhat metafilmic approach in which a cartoon character like Goofy becomes more of an actor than a character, establishing the "make believe" qualities of filmmaking and one that can be seen as a stepping stone for some of the most brilliant metafilmic work that would be done in the following years by people like Tex Avery or Chuck Jones. Let me just say I think this brought us one step closer to something as brilliant as Duck Amuck

Although the shorts were pretty good, having every character in the shorts be Goofy meant that he lost some of his personality and individuality. At some point this started to worry Disney, who decided to return him to being more of an individual giving way to what I would say were the weirdest times for Goofy. 

For the most part of the 1950s, Goofy was in what historians call his Everyman period. Goofy was the star of short subjects in which he had to deal with common everyday conflicts like quitting smoking or fighting a cold. Although these cartoons were introduced as "a Goofy cartoon", in them, Goofy was referred to by the narrator and the other characters as "George Geef". He also had a makeover that made him look more like a human. All of his skin was pale now (not only his face) and he didn't long, droopy ears. The look is certainly bizarre for someone accustomed to his usual image. I personally think this is the weakest part of Goofy's screen career, but some of these shorts sport some pretty funny gags. 

By the mid-60s Goofy's career in shorts was over. Although the Disney marketing machine kept his image alive, it wasn't until the early 90s, when he starred in the television series Goof Troop that he gained new popularity. Goof Troop featured Goofy as a doofus single father raising his son Max and was part of a wave of Disney animated television series that aired on syndicated afternoon blocks. Goof Troop wasn't the best of these series, but did a pretty good job of taking Goofy's personality and putting it in a fatherly setting. This newly regained popularity culminated with the 1995 feature film A Goofy Movie, which is a pretty solid and sweet movie. 

Although he is not as popular as he once was, Goofy is still one of the most recognized cartoon characters around (again, thanks to Disney's powerful marketing) and I don't think he'll be forgotten anytime soon. He started in the short How to Hook Up Your Home Theater as recently as 2007 and in a web-short commercial for the Disney Parks called Checkin' in with Goofy in 2011. There is something that makes these characters stay in the popular mind-set beyond their marketing ubiquity, people do connect with them. Goofy is just that incompetent but inherently good guy. You know he is trying to do the right thing, even if he is completely inaptly fit for the task. 

Next Time: Well, the Canon is going to be back. I've decided that keeping a tight schedule when going about it is too hard for me, so the Disney Canon will go on irregularly from now on. I'm expecting to do one post a week, but I'll probably miss some and do two posts on others. 
Anyway, this is a long way to say I'll probably have something up about The Aristocats in the coming days. 

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