A Goofy Movie (1995)
As cartoons have transitioned from being merely a distraction tool used by parents to a filmmaker’s opportunity to craft universal stories on a grand scale, it’s frustrating when detractors stubbornly cling to the idea of animation being a “kids-only” genre. Ralph Bakshi may be an extreme example, but he remains the king of the “adult animation” world, having directed very mature fare like Heavy Traffic, Wizards, and American Pop. It would be a cold day in hell if Disney produced works like The Plague Dogs, Grave of the Fireflies, Akira, Persepolis, or Perfect Blue. Say what you will about Disney, though; it’s quality standards are incredibly high. The reason The House of Mouse remains so powerful is partially due to the amount of money and technical expertise it can throw at a theme park, toy, or movie. Results vary, but few filmmakers have ever complained about having too much money to spend (Coppola on Apocalypse Now being an exception). Disney has an iron fist when it comes to controlling its employees, but the fist is encrusted with diamonds, jewels, and the smell of success, and do I detect a hint of juniper? I must confess: I was under the impression 1995’s A Goofy Movie was a direct-to-video release. I mean, come on! This was right in the middle of the Disney animation renaissance; sandwiched between The Lion King (1994) and Pocahontas (1995). Granted, considering the wildly inaccurate historical re-imagining of Pocahontas, one could say the peak was the story of Simba and a slow descent followed. And yet, as the years have passed, A Goofy Movie has gone from an obscure little trifle meant to act as a follow-up to the marginally popular Goof Troop to a beloved, dare I say, minor classic which Disney suddenly acknowledged as a fine example of the great traditions set forth by Walt and his crew.
My first memory of Goofy is probably in the fabulously inventive 1938 short Mickey’s Trailer, in which the trio of Mickey, Donald Duck, and Goofy have some major problems with an automated camper. I can’t pretend that he was my favorite; I think I preferred Donald due to his temper, but Goofy remained an important member of the original line-up. He’s also the subject of one of the funniest movie punchlines I’ve ever heard. Stand by Me (1986). Vern: “God...that’s weird! What the hell is Goofy?” Nowadays, A Goofy Movie would’ve gone the streaming route, likely to Disney+. I envy those who saw the film in a theatre since the rocking songs and dynamic imagery probably made for a fun afternoon at the picture house.
The universality of the relationship between Goofy and his teenage son, Max, is stunningly timeless and remains prescient even today. It seems unfair that teens go through phases where they’re like, totally embarrassed by their parents. The constant fear of actually becoming your parents may contribute to an inherently rebellious streak as adulthood creeps ever closer. Max Goof seems to believe that his own status as a social outcast stems from his unfortunate relation to the ultimate ‘goof,” Goofy...Goof, I guess. I have to assume that’s his last name since he’s referred to on the phone as such. Max certainly doesn’t hate his dad, but while he desperately wants to be cool, popular, and talk to the seemingly unattainable girl he has a crush on, the elder Goof happily drifts through life, unaware of Max’s emotional problems. After all, how could Max, a teenager, ever discuss his problems with (gasp!) an adult?!
I once heard someone describe A Goofy Movie as being “way better than it has any reason to be.” That’s a logical angle to take as director Kevin Lima (Tarzan, Enchanted) and writers Jymm Magon (DuckTales), Chris Matheson (The Bill & Ted movies), Brian Pimental (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin), and for some reason, actors Curtis Armstrong and John Doolittle, had no real need to do anything more than plunk a famous cartoon character into one wacky situation after the other and cash the check. Instead, they set out to create a surprisingly moving portrayal of the very real inner-problems of fathers and sons. Except...those fathers and sons are anthropomorphic dogs.
In a gorgeous opening scene that quickly turns literally nightmarish, Max, originally voiced by the late, great Dana Hill (European Vacation, Faerie Tale Theatre), now voiced by Jason Marsden (Hocus Pocus, the great English dub of Spirited Away), literally sees his crush, Roxanne (Kellie Martin, Troop Beverly Hills, Matinee) on a pedestal. Pushing his way through a field of golden wheat, they fall into each other’s arms and very nearly kiss, until the sky darkens and Max begins to transform. Roxanne backs away, terrified, and Max shoots up several feet and changes into the adult Goofy, letting out that distinctive Goofy laugh, which here sounds like a disturbing squeal. Waking up from his nightmare, his best friend PJ (prolific VO artist Rob Paulsen) calls him about “the plan.” We don’t know it yet, but Max is determined to break out of his “goof prison” by staging a massive prank which will hopefully garner the attention of Roxanne and maybe even bump up his status on the social ladder.
For those who don’t enjoy musicals, I say “Phooey on you, good sir!” I adore the songs in A Goofy Movie. Some are stronger than others, with the Powerline songs being the, ahem, stand outs, but “After Today” provides a rousing opening number which firmly establishes both Max’s hopes and dreams while introducing every clique imaginable: the jocks, cheerleaders, goths, nerds, slackers, etc.. First-time director Lima finds wonderfully playful ways to animate Max’s walk to school, with jock straps being shot at him and an overweight bus driver informing us of his summer plans: “I’m gonna sit on my butt.” There’s a definite Grease reference as Max climbs the bleachers like Danny Zuko and sings into the wind, before tumbling down to the ground. I’ve always found that Aaron Lohr, the actor who provided the singing voice for Max, sounds like a less-nasally version of Anthony Rapp, who I’m a fan of, by the way. He has just the right attitude of minor aggression coupled with an innocent longing for happiness.
With help from PJ and an uncredited Pauly Shore, who was a big deal at the time, Max dresses up as Powerline and sabotages the principal’s lame-o speech. The principal, incidentally, is voiced by the great Wallace Shawn, a choice that is inconceivably perfect. Powerline, the number one musical artist in the world, is a mixture of Michael Jackson, Prince, and Bobby Brown, who had to bow out of performing the role due to his numerous drug problems: “Bobby! Show them that new baby!” “Bitch! We sold that baby for crack last week!” As the principal literally drops through a trap door (what the hell kind of play did they perform that year?), a huge screen rises as the song “Stand Out,” performed by the powerhouse Tevin Campbell, blares on the soundtrack. I literally got chills as Max began to perform. Perhaps I also long for the spotlight in high school and with the knowledge that his stunt makes him the coolest kid in school, it’s satisfying that a fellow loner finally gets his moment to shine.
And what does Goofy do from day-to-day? Based off of Goof Troop, he’s presumably been hired and fired by everyone in town, so his current job is a store photographer at a K-Mart. Oh, they don’t say it’s a K-Mart, but a “blue light” special seen later on in the store is a dead giveaway. Goofy has been indelibly voiced by Bill Farmer since the late 80’s and here he’s given a rare opportunity to give a silly character a remarkable depth and range of emotions. His co-worker is long-time frenemy Pete, a cat in a seemingly all-dog world. Pete is a boisterous, insecure bully who gives alarmist advice to Goofy about Max joining gangs while he velcro's a poor child to her spot on the photo table. While Max and Roxanne finally talk and he asks her out, Goofy receives a disturbing call from the principal, who peers out of his window blinds as if in a Philip Marlowe noir. In the first of many slightly disturbing bits of dialogue, Goofy is informed that his son whipped “the entire student body into a riotous frenzy” and if he continues on his current path, his destination may very well be “the electric chair.” A device used to literally kill people is discussed more than once in a Disney film. Goofy comes up with, in his mind, the brilliant idea to take Max on a father-son fishing trip to Lake Destiny in the ultra-hip Idaho. Again, bad timing.
After the final bell rings, Max is complimented by various members of the high school elite for his “wicked moves” and PJ begins a chant for Max, which leads into a triumphant reprise of “Stand Out.” He engages in simple acts like jumping up to smack the leaves off a tree to doing loop-de-loops on a skateboard through a concrete pipe. Yes, the plan worked, and now Max has a date with his dream girl to the valedictorian Stacey (Jenna Van Oy, Blossom)’s pay-per-view (remember PPV?) party, where they’ll watch Powerline’s concert live from L.A.. People who grew up with streaming have no idea the pain and misery when there was a technical glitch or a power outage right when your pay-per-view event was about to start. If you missed it, you were screwed. Maybe they’ll re-run it, maybe they won’t.
Goofy is busily loading the car as Max confidently strides into the front yard. Max’s entire world collapses when he discovers that his unpredictable dad is practically kidnapping him for a fishing vacation. A knowing scene occurs when Goofy hands max a long, thin box. No, it’s not Theon Greyjoy’s penis. It’s a fishing rod that’s been in the family for years. I had a similar moment with my dad, when he told me he had a gift for me, and I admit that I assumed it was a new video game. Instead, he gave me his old baseball glove. Based on the fact that I’m not currently in the majors, I think you can guess the glove didn’t blow my mind. But I do love Major League, though.
Disney keeps two movie traditions very much alive in A Goofy Movie. Number one, a mother is nowhere to be seen. Number two, the plot hinges on a lie that didn’t need to be told in the first place. Max panics after he tries to break off his date with Roxanne and blurts out that his dad is a friend of Powerline and he’ll wave to her from the concert stage on TV. When Roxanne, who is visibly excited, stares at Max’s obviously uncool dad, he deadpans to Goofy, “Just a minute, you...party animal...you.” Walking away, knowing he’s just promised the impossible, he mutters, “I’m in deep sludge.”
Admirably, Goofy tries to play road games with his depressed and irritated son and we get the first example of a whole slew of damage that will be inflicted upon Goofy’s car. He’s got a goddamn 8-track cassette but Max wants to listen to metal. They aggressively press the buttons until the tape and radio are busted. Goofy listens to the rhythmic sounds of the highway and launches into the ensemble number “On the Open Road.” It’s admittedly the weakest of the songs on the soundtrack, but it’s bouncy and fun, with various motorists joining in on the fun and a cameo by Mickey and Donald. The film doesn’t lose track of character, as Goofy sees a prisoner being transported and imagines Max in prison duds, while Max continues to brood. The song even has an overlapping duet between Goofy and Max. Think “Confrontation” from Les Miz, just a lot more upbeat and way less French.
Goofy is a sucker for tourist traps and the one he drags Max to takes the cake. Lester’s Possum Park appears to be a refuge for hillbillies and it’s absolutely hysterical as country bumpkins yodel and holler while shoddy animatronic wildlife perform a rootin’ tootin’ theme song. The cutaways, particularly to a happy but very creepy toddler, are fabulously vivid. Max continues to get embarrassed, with one little asshole calling Goofy a “dork” and Max “dork jr.” As rain begins to fall, Max stomps out of the park and attempts to hitchhike. His inadvertent cruelty shows when he tells Goofy he’s “trying to get away from you!”
Goofy sets up camp and is nearly run over by Pete’s mega-camper. Always overcompensating, Pete even has a bowling alley on the roof, where he nearly gets a strike. He uses this as an example of his so-called “excellent parenting” by forcing PJ to kick over the remaining pin. It’s clear he’s a controlling, overbearing, and critical father who constantly brings his son down. Fortunately, PJ is much stronger than he lets on and tends to brush the abuse off. At a lake, Goofy shows Max an old family secret: The Perfect Cast. It involves a series of ridiculous moves which culminate in a massive cast off, snagging a steak Pete is cooking up and which in turn attracts none other than Bigfoot. The legendary beast, voiced by (who else?) the equally legendary Frank Welker, gets pulled out of the lake while Goofy films him with his camera. “Could you back up a bit, Mr. Foot? You’re outta focus.” The pair run off and Pete is quick to leave them behind. They huddle in the car while Mr. Foot rustles through their stuff. They’re treated to Bigfoot’s various antics, like putting on a puppet show. In a visual gag that I’ve always found extremely funny, a pair of headphones drop on his head, playing The Bee Gee’s “Staying Alive.” Initially confused, he suddenly gets a toothy grin and starts to groove.
Later that night, Goofy and Max reconcile in a quietly lovely scene. Goofy’s able to nab a can of alphabet soup and heat it up with a cigarette lighter. He recalls when Max was a child that he called it “Hi Dad Soup” because he’d use the letters to spell words. Goofy remarks that Max also spelled out “I love you” before abruptly cutting himself off in a devastating realization of their strained relationship. I can’t stress enough the humanity that’s brought to life here by these two animated dogs. The genesis for the film came from ousted Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg’s own relationship with his daughter and was carried over by Kevin Lima’s relationship with his absentee father. There are real emotional stakes at play here.
As Goofy sleeps, Max composes a letter, which becomes a confession. Realizing the lie has put him in an impossible situation where he’ll either disappoint Roxanne or simply get rejected by her for lying, he kicks the glove compartment, causing the road map to tumble out. He eyes it carefully and, making a split decision, doctors it to lead the pair to Los Angeles rather than Idaho. It’s a stupid, selfish decision, made even worse by his unfortunate assumption that Goofy will be too dim to notice the change. At a trucker diner the next morning, Goofy unexpectedly grants Max the responsibility to navigate the trip, inadvertently giving Max the chance to steer them in the direction of the concert.
What follows is a fun montage that takes them jet skiing, roller coaster riding, and to a monster truck rally, all of which aren’t Goofy’s cup of tea. Max, at least being sensitive and knowing his dad, sweetly surprises him by taking him to a “House of Yarn.” Goofy’s delight is infectious. The geographical accuracies strain credibility, since they seem to bounce between the Grand Canyon and New Orleans willy-nilly, but the attention to detail is quite good, particularly in a baseball scene where they’re way up in the cheap seats, which makes sense considering all of the spending Goofy is undoubtedly doing.
Stopping off at the wonderfully tacky Neptune Inn, complete with fish-populated water beds and a coral dresser, they’re met once again by Pete. As PJ chides Max for trying to pull a fast one on Goofy, Pete eavesdrops and later tells Goofy of Max’s ruse. Goofy refuses to believe it and stares at his glove box, where he’ll know for certain whether Max has been lying. He accidentally pops out the map and in a supremely upsetting cut, we see a look of shock and sadness as he slowly crawls into bed.
The camera rotates on Goofy’s face and we transition into the car. As they approach the final leg of the trip, Goofy’s face is stern, tight. Max, unsure of what’s going on, tries to lighten the mood, but can’t seem to crack his normally jolly dad. In a dramatic action scene, the highway comes to a junction, with one way leading to Los Angeles and one leading to Idaho. That’s a very specific junction. Both protagonists' minds are racing. For Max, he has to decide whether to continue his deception and Goofy sees this as the moment of truth where he’ll find out what his son really thinks of him. Unfortunately, Max yells “Left!” picking Los Angeles. Saying nothing, Goofy swerves off the road and storms out of the car, the camera staying behind him as he leans over a cliff. It’s a very realistic moment of genuine anger, where someone is so upset that they need to be alone with their thoughts. It all comes crashing down as Goofy lashes out at Max for assuming he was too stupid to notice the changes to the map. The look of disappointment and hurt is quite affecting. As the pair argue, Max accidentally pushes the car down the mountain and they continue their argument while the car careens off the cliff and into a rushing river.
“You ruin everything,” Max says. He continues, “I’ve got my own life now.” In a nakedly passionate plea, Goofy says, “I know! I just wanted to be a part of it. You’ll always be my son.” The concept behind a musical, wherein songs sit comfortably (and sometimes uncomfortably) against patches of dialogue, has often been described as such: When the emotion becomes too strong for speech, you sing. Here is a perfect example, as the two remain silent until finally bursting into song with the uplifting “Nobody Else but You.” It’s a cathartic moment, but the lyrics remain quite witty and self-aware, with a standout being: “Though he seems intoxicated, he’s just highly animated.” Things take a turn for the worse when the car goes over a waterfall and Max has to use the “perfect cast” to save Goofy from a deadly fall. Goofy’s eyes well up with tears and the two hug in mid-air. Although Max is fully prepared to pack it in, his dad is now determined to get him to that concert.
The fact that the film clocks in at 78 minutes reveals remarkably confident and fluid pacing by Lima and the writers as the two sneak into the concert, hidden inside instrument cases. Everything happens quite quickly. Powerline takes the stage for the final number, an electrifying song called “I 2 I.” Goofy accidentally lands on stage with the singer, where Max tells him to perform “the perfect cast.” Powerline, ever the professional, thinks it’s a fantastic new dance and joins Goofy while Max is chased by a burly stagehand. Back in town, Roxanne nervously watches for Max as some of her classmates question the validity of Max’s claims. Fortunately, Max lands center stage between Goofy and Powerline, and they engage in a surprisingly well-choreographed dance. It’s like in She’s All That (1999) where the “dance club” busts it out at the prom. It’s a triumphant finale, but we’ve got one more important scene.
Max comes clean to Roxanne, which he should, and he even steals a quick kiss from her. Goofy’s car, barely functioning, finally expires by literally exploding, sending Goofy through Roxanne’s porch roof. He’s a surprisingly smooth operator, as he kisses her hand and speaks a little French. As always, the truth is the way to go, but if we didn’t have unnecessary lies, we wouldn’t have such a delightful movie, would we?
A Goofy Movie is an emotionally resonant film that refuses to show its age due to its timeless story of parent-teen relationships and teenage romance. Sure, there are some literal beats that date it, as in Pete’s mention of “The MTV Generation” and the mere presence of Pauly Shore, whom I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his “fundage” or fee for hooking Max up with the video equipment. The “scrumptious cheddah whizzy!” Let’s face it, that “leaning tower of Cheesah” line is still pretty damn funny. The songs were written by an impressive array of songwriters: Tom Snow, Jack Feldman, Patrick DeRemer, Roy Freeland, Randy Petersen, and Kevin Quinn. Between them, they’ve written such hits as “Let’s Hear it for The Boy,” “Copacabana,” “Bop to the Top,” and many popular theme songs. Incidentally, Broadway veteran Michael Starobin did the orchestrations. The film only contains a handful of songs, which ends up being a positive since it allows for more dialogue that deepens the central relationship. The film excels at being a road movie whose destination isn’t a place, but a peace and understanding between two different generations.