A Goofy Movie Revisited

(Welcome to Out of the Disney Vault, where we explore the unsung gems and forgotten disasters currently streaming on Disney+.)

It’s a funny thing about the so-called Fab Five of the Walt Disney Company (yes, that really is a moniker given to them). Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto are among the most recognizable figures in American popular culture. We’ve all seen them before, whether in short films or TV shows or in person. But they’re not often in feature films. Usually, if they are, it’s due to cameo appearances (such as in Who Framed Roger Rabbit) or short films released in the last 40 years (such as Mickey’s Christmas Carol). Hell, it was only earlier in 2020 that Mickey Mouse got his own dedicated theme-park ride, and that’s after 65 years of theme-park history.

Just one of the Fab Five ever got to topline a movie all about him. No hedging, no hesitation. Just over 25 years ago, that most lovable, if dumb, Goof got himself a motion picture.

The Pitch

The late 1980s and early 1990s were a good time for children’s television, in that there were plenty of choices to pick. (You may argue that many of these shows were great. I would argue that a few of them were, because…well, listen, I’m a non-nostalgic grouch.) The Disney Afternoon lineup was chock-full of titles that are still beloved by many Millennials: DuckTales (the 2017 revival is leagues better than the decent original), Darkwing Duck, and more shows inflamed kids’ imaginations. While DuckTales did get the feature-film treatment in 1990 with DuckTales The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, that film is largely fascinating now as a piece of trivia. It was the first project made by what is now known as DisneyToon Studios, the production unit tasked mostly with making direct-to-video films. 

Another 90s-era show was Goof Troop, in which we followed along the misadventures of Goofy and his son, Max. (Yes, in the universe of this show, he had a son. Did he have a wife? An ex-wife? A side piece who gave birth to a kid once? Well…the jury’s out, as this tweet implies.) The five-year gap between DuckTales the Movie and A Goofy Movie, arriving in April of 1995, can be chalked up to Disney just beginning to find its sea legs in producing animated content outside of its traditional studio unit. Less than a year before its arrival, DisneyToon Studios released The Return of Jafar, which changed the prospects of the studio’s future far more than a road-trip adventure with a pair of Goofs ever could. It’s worth noting, though, that Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg was partially inspired for the core premise of A Goofy Movie – a road trip bonding father and child together – by a road trip of his own with his daughter. (Katzenberg, to note, had left Disney long before A Goofy Movie arrived in theaters.)

The Movie

The good thing about Disney+ is that you can watch both DuckTales the Movie and A Goofy Movie anytime you want. The bad thing is that you can easily spot how drastically things changed over those years. That benefits A Goofy Movie enormously well, to its credit. Though the film doesn’t have the most jaw-dropping animation in Disney history, it looks a sight better in HD than the 1990 film does. I mention them both here because they’re both inspired by small-screen content and could have easily been hemmed in because TV doesn’t always turn into good cinema. DuckTales the Movie is content to be small-screen in its aspirations. A Goofy Movie, on the other hand, is a bit more surprising.

A Goofy Movie is an interesting title to revisit, especially considering the cult fanbase that it’s inspired in the last quarter-century. (We’ll get to that soon.) I distinctly remember seeing the film on its opening day in April, I presume on Good Friday of 1995. (I was not the kind of kid whose parents let me cut school to see movies, so I have to imagine I was off school for a real reason.) I couldn’t tell you that much about the Goof Troop TV show, but I enjoyed the movie adaptation enough initially to buy the VHS. Yet returning to the film as an adult, I’m struck at least by the fairly mature question underpinning the movie in ways I absolutely would not have grasped at age 10-going-on-11.

The opening dream sequence poses the question simply enough through a romantic fantasy being twisted into a nightmare: what would it be like if you were fated to grow up as the son of Goofy? Leave aside being Goofy himself. What would it be like if you were a teenager, as Max Goof is when the film begins, and all you dread is turning into your dad…Goofy? It’s one thing to dread turning into your parents – most of us have had that feeling. It’s another thing when you know your dad is…the Goofy. (I noted this on Twitter recently: apparently in the universe of this movie, Walt Disney existed. But this Goofy doesn’t appear to be an ex-movie star.)

When the film begins, the conflict is simple: Max Goof really, truly does not want to be Goofy. Ever. As well-meaning as his dad is, Max can’t stand him. That’s why he wants to impress the prettiest girl in school, Roxanne, by dressing up as the beloved rock star Prince – er, I mean, Powerline – and hijacking a school assembly in the process. This gets Max in trouble right at the end of the school year, inspiring Goofy to take his son on a road trip to an old fishing hole, at just the same time that Max has lied and told Roxanne that he’s going to Powerline’s concert in Los Angeles. (Fun fact: the concert is apparently going to be made available to the rest of the country via pay-per-view. Remember pay-per-view?)

The plot of A Goofy Movie is not terribly surprising. Would you believe that Roxanne already likes Max, and doesn’t even need him to dress up like a rock star to impress her? Would you believe that Goofy and Max will have an argument and then forgive each other, becoming closer in the process? Would you believe that a Bigfoot rocks out to disco in the woods? (OK, that part may come as a surprise to you, but it’s true.) The charms of this movie – and my nitpicking aside, I do like this movie – are not in its plot machinations, but in the strange little touches on the sides, from a riff on the Country Bear Jamboree with possums to the Tevin Campbell-performed songs that make up Powerline’s discography. (I’m too old to say this, but the climactic number, “I2I”, is a banger that slaps. Or something. You know what I mean.) This movie’s aims are modest, but its execution is surprisingly ambitious.

The Legacy

As I mentioned, A Goofy Movie is not without its fans, but that wasn’t automatically clear in 1995. When the film opened in early April, it did so with minimal fanfare at the box office. The film grossed just $35 million domestically, opening second behind Michael Bay’s debut feature, Bad Boys. And while the film did inspire a direct-to-video sequel, An Extremely Goofy Movie (having seen the sequel, I can tell you that title is a lie), neither of them made their way to Blu-ray until 2019 via a Disney Movie Club exclusive.

But over the last 25 years, A Goofy Movie has grown with its Millennial audience. The film got a 20th anniversary panel at the D23 Expo in 2015, it’s inspired tribute videos, merchandise, and plenty of passionate fans accrued over years of home-media viewing. A Goofy Movie managed to become timeless almost in spite of itself. As that Vanity Fair article highlights, Jeffrey Katzenberg took a long time before he would be convinced that Bill Farmer, the longtime voice of Goofy, should actually voice Goofy instead of a celebrity like Steve Martin. (Martin, a comic legend, would go onto appear in a couple of DreamWorks Animation productions once Katzenberg left Disney behind.)

A Goofy Movie, as Disney producer Don Hahn notes in that article, has both all and none of the hallmarks of a Disney classic. It has the heart, humanity, tuneful spirit, and wit that we associate with Disney filmmaking, despite having none of the traditional storytelling choices, worlds, or characters. (It’s worth noting that this movie arrived in theaters months before Toy Story did, truly upending the natural state of mainstream feature animation.) This movie highlights one of the truest oddities of the Walt Disney stable of animated characters: its most recognizable and symbolic characters are either supporting characters in canon releases (such as Tinker Bell in Peter Pan), or they’re not in canon releases at all. 

Goofy has appeared in a number of other direct-to-DVD films, such as Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers (which could be worse, but it’s not good enough to merit inclusion in this column in the future, let’s put it that way). But he hasn’t been the lead of another theatrical release since this one. Part of the problem has nothing to do with this movie. You can only do so much with a character who works best in short form. But A Goofy Movie at least allowed its animators and writers to explore the premise of being Goofy and being in his family, instead of just doing lazy humor, forgettable songs, and phoning it in.

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