Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dr. Jahnke's History Of Film - The Complete Goofy

Considering the lavish treatment Disney gives to its animated features, it’s a little shocking how little respect they often pay their short films. After all, these are the primary showcases for Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the gang, iconic characters that these days turn up mainly in consumer products if they turn up at all. Warner Bros. doesn’t often know what to do with their stable of Looney Tunes characters in modern times, either. But at least they’ve done a good job keeping the original shorts in the public eye, first on DVD and now on Blu-ray.

For years, Disney’s biggest use for their animated shorts was as Disney Channel filler, hacked up and re-edited to suit whatever fad was popular at the time (anybody remember DTV?). There were, of course, mountains of VHS and Betamax releases but they were a bit haphazard. They did a better job with their Archive Collection series of laserdiscs (in general, Disney produced some utterly gorgeous laserdisc sets) but they only scratched the surface of what they could have done with their shorts.

It wasn’t until DVD came along that Disney finally took a real interest in showcasing these classics. In 2001, they launched the Walt Disney Treasures line, limited edition two-disc sets packaged in handsome tins that promised a truly special release. Hosted by Leonard Maltin, the sets were beautifully presented and full of outstanding bonus material. In many ways, they were superior to the Looney Tunes Golden Collections (and later Platinum Collections on Blu-ray) by virtue of being more focused and better organized. There were specific collections devoted to Mickey, Donald, Pluto, Goofy, Silly Symphonies, early rarities and more. Naturally, the series was too good to last. It sputtered to a close in 2009 with the release of the Zorro TV series. So far, there seems to be no great hurry to convert the Treasures titles to Blu. If you can find a copy of the DVDs on the second-hand market, expect to pay north of a hundred bones for it.

I have some but not all of the Treasures sets, enough that it annoys me that I don’t have the rest. While I wouldn’t really want to part with any of them, The Complete Goofy in particular is one you’ll have to pry from my cold, dead hands. Goofy might not be my favorite Disney character. Donald Duck is pretty hard to beat. But the Goofy cartoons, especially the series of “How-To” shorts, are among Disney’s most inspired and funniest.

The character that would evolve into Goofy debuted in the 1932 short Mickey’s Revue, although Dippy Dawg had a ways to go before he’d be the Goof we know today. He began to come into his own once he was teamed with Mickey and Donald in such classics as Clock Cleaners and Lonesome Ghosts. (As an aside, I had Lonesome Ghosts on one of those Fisher Price Movie Viewer cartridges and was fairly obsessed with it as a kid, examining it frontwards, backwards and frame by frame.)

Goofy was deemed ready for solo stardom in 1939 with the release of Goofy And Wilbur, a pleasant but fairly standard cartoon with Goofy, ever the sportsman, using his pal, the super-smart grasshopper Wilbur, as bait on a fishing trip. The name in the title suggests that Disney may have had visions of stardom for little Wilbur too but, alas, it was not to be. (Although according to The Disney Wiki, this cartoon was later edited into a vacation-themed episode of Disneyland and Wilbur was retroactively made Jiminy Cricket’s nephew.)

Ironically, Goofy didn’t really come into his own as a solo star until he lost his distinctive voice. After Pinto Colvig left the studio, a now silent Goofy was placed into a series of “How-To” shorts beginning with The Art Of Skiing in 1941. With John McLeish providing stentorian and often pretentious narration and freed of the conventions of trying to tell an 8-minute narrative, these cartoons were more innovative and entertaining than most of Disney’s shorts during the period. Colvig eventually returned to the character but the change in Goofy’s personality remained.

As time went on, Goofy continued to change, even more than the other characters in the Disney stable. Goofy actually evolved into his own species, with Goofs of different sizes, genders and personalities populating entire opposing teams, their fans, and whole cities. A loyal American, Goofy contributed to the war effort during WWII and the post-war effort in the 1950s. Unlike most cartoon characters who had nephews or, infrequently, nieces, Goofy actually had a wife and son (Goofy Jr., later Max). Goofy may have seemed naïve and childlike at times but in many ways, he was the most adult character Disney had.

Disney essentially got out of the business of making short subjects in the 1960s. The final official Goofy cartoon, Aquamania, was released in 1961. But the character made a most welcome comeback in 2007 with a new short, How To Hook Up Your Home Theater. This title is available on the recently released Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection Blu-ray. The studio has also released two outstanding collections of shorts from Pixar. But none of the studio’s classic shorts have yet made the jump to high-def. I hope they will although Disney’s inconsistent commitment to the format doesn’t fill one with hope. These films and characters are really the foundation that Walt Disney Studios was built upon. It’d be a shame if they were left behind where only deep-pocketed collectors can get ahold of them.