Strictly speaking, the title of 1995's A Goofy Movie is accurate. It is a movie; the iconic Disney character Goofy is in it. But it is an incomplete title: A Goof Troop Movie would be far more precise and cause fewer broken hearts: for while it is A Goofy movie, it is surely not The Goofy movie, given as it makes its title character the second banana to a protagonist and a scenario entirely unworthy of him, mired in instantly-dated sops to early-'90s pop culture. How instantly-dated?


To those who have no knowledge of Goof Troop, allow me a brief primer: it was one of several cartoons produced by Walt Disney Television Animation in the early 1990s, when the returns on DuckTales and Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers made afternoon television seem like the most golden and self-renewing of all untapped revenue streams;* giving old-school characters a chance to breathe in a new environment (even when, as in TaleSpin, that environment made no damn sense - I spent much of my childhood, all of my adolescence, and an unhealthy portion of early adulthood wondering why wild animals from the British Raj would end up as businessmen, club owners, and daredevil flyers in the 1930s in the North Atlantic). Goof Troop, to my mind, always suffered from a single, crippling flaw: it was seemingly derived from the run of Goofy shorts in the 1950s when the character, divorced of his longstanding context alongside Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, stood in as the All-American Suburban Husband, in stories parodying the culture of Eisenhower Era life, with an unseen wife and a small Goofy clone only ever called Junior.

I am here speaking privately, you understand, but as long as I've been able to articulate an opinion on the matter, it's been clear that these are not at all the best Goofy had to offer: he was best as a foil to the competent Mickey and the irascible Donald, of course, but in his solo days, the slapstick "How To" shorts from the '40s, and especially those involving Goofy's misadventures with professional sports, are clearly the cream of the crop. Clearly. Not that much of Disney's short output during the 1950s was all that exciting, anyway; after the studio began to produce films in earnest around 1940, the shorts quickly turned into an afterthought. But this is not the time for that conversation, I suppose.

The point is, Goof Troop takes the "Goofy the husband and father" shorts, fast-forwards to the point that Junior turns into a rather princessy 11-year-old named Max, wishes Unseen Mom out to the cornfield, and drops the whole shebang in the 1990s. A Goofy Movie ramps things up a couple of years so that Max can be a teenager (and I'm stymied as to whether we're meant to be looking at the summer between 8th grade and high school, or the summer after freshman year), and gives us a long hard look at the intense challenges of keeping the relationship between a single father and a teenage son alive. For, you see, Max (Jason Marsden) was trying to impress this girl, Roxanne (Kellie Martin), and ended up virtually destroying a school assembly in a way that made him, for the first time, popular among his peers; but his father (Bill Farmer, still the official voice of Goofy, as he has been since the mid-'80s) heard only a garbled version of this story from the angry principal (Wallace Shawn), and has it mind that his son is on a short road to the most cruel and vicious sort of juvenile delinquency.

The solution, proposed by Goofy's mean-spirited "best friend" Pete (Jim Cummings), is a father-son road trip; and this only angers Max all the more, as he'd finally ginned up enough fortitude to ask Roxanne out already, and to excuse himself, fabricated an absurd lie about his and Goofy's destination. So the trip starts out with an oblivious, accident-prone dad and a furious teenage boy, and things, as they will, have to get bad before they get good again.

My overriding problem with A Goofy Movie is like my problem with Goof Troop, only more intense: the central Goofy/Max relationship just isn't that appealing. That's underselling it, even: the scenario, coupled with Marsden's unexpectedly strident performance, result in a portrayal of teenage angst and resentment that's just so bitter, deep and dark and acidic and unpleasantly hurtful, just to watch it. In, I hasten to point out, a children's movie, children not being the chief target audience for lacerating depictions of enraged teens. Not to mention there's a significant mismatch between subject and format that results, because the structure of a slapstick cartoon feature implies certain emotional territory is going to be okay, and the out-and-out rancidity of A Goofy Movie sure as hell isn't it.

There are other problems, to be certain, including how very trite "daddy issues" stories have been and continue to be - I swear, screenwriters as a class must hate their fathers more than any other group this side of serial murderers - and the incredibly obnoxious songs that make up the musical's soundtrack: three book numbers by Tom Snow and Jack Feldman are instantly-forgotten, hollow pop-flavored noodles about, respectively, the joys of the school year ending, the joys of the open road (a curiously mis-handled attempt at the big Broadway showstopper that had become a welcome staple of the real Disney movies by this point in the 1990s), and the subdued, tender joys of family; and two fucking hideous neo-R&B songs by Patrick DeRemer and Roy Freeland, performed by someone named Tevin Campbell, and the impression I have is that the idealised 1995 viewer is meant to have any kind of response to that name at all. Because, I didn't mention it, but the whole entire conflict is ultimately driven by this super-tacky singer named Powerline, who is considered by the teen characters and by extension the audience to a visionary, though what kind of visionary would name a single by the sub-sub-Princism "I 2 I", I would prefer not to ever know again.

For as much as the movie is irritating and largely unlikable, though, I have to give it this much credit: it looks like a legitimate project. Because, in point of fact, it was a legitimate project: it is the only Walt Disney Television Animation production that was made in collaboration with Feature Animation, and was, in fact, partially meant in that regard to see if the studios in Paris (which had handled the earlier DuckTales the Movie all on its own) and Sydney were up to the challenge of creating Feature-quality work, so that they could serve as support staff on the big guns. Surprisingly - or maybe not, if you know your contemporary Disney history - the answer was yes. A qualified yes, but that was as much because A Goofy Movie was of an entirely different order of prestige than the previous year's The Lion King or the same year' Pocahontas, and had but a fraction of their budgets

Compared to anything that was happening on the Disney TV shows at that point - TV shows that were still among the very best-made of their generation, though if nothing else, Warner's Animaniacs was almost at the same level - A Goofy Movie is a triumphantly complex, subtle work of animation. The layering and shading are a huge step up:

-and the character animation is, if not flawless, largely devoid of the imprecise mugging that was a semi-recurring feature of Disney television animation well into the period in question, cropping up in especially nasty ways in the 1991-'92 Darkwing Duck, for example. A Goofy Movie has jumped far above that level, particularly in the many expressions worn by Max, which are broad enough to keep us in the territory of "cartoon comedy", but don't have to be sloppy about it.

That's not, in and of itself, sufficient to save A Goofy Movie from what is still, unmistakably, a dodgy script, but it's enough to redeem the film as being more than just a cash-grab, which in and of itself makes this a rarity in the the company of cheap, satellite studio quickies that plagued the Disney brand for the next decade or so. I will not go to bat for the movie as anything but a curiosity for the completists; but by those grotesquely lowered standards, it's a definite keeper.