A Goofy Movie (1995)

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When I watch The Goofy Movie, I become Anton Ego from Ratatouille after he takes that first bite — a crotchety old man brought back to his childhood with some “peasant food.”

If a scientist attempted to engineer a film that was designed to make me blissful and nostalgic, they wouldn’t be too far off with A Goofy Movie.

First, it was a formative text for me: the first movie I remember seeing in theaters; a movie about parental tensions and crushes when I was first becoming aware of such things. The comic set pieces demolished me into uncontrollable cackling when I was seven, and several of them still do.

It’s an animated musical and (sort of) a teen comedy, probably my top two “will watch and enjoy any film” genres.

There are other factors, too, that have always resonated with me personally: the intense wish fulfillment for an unpopular boy getting recognized by his peers and his object of infatuation; the habit of projecting pop music onto your personality and emotions; and a perfect blend of dopiness and sentimentality in the shenanigans.

But it’s not just a “childhood favorite.” It’s a film that has genuinely stuck with me as I’ve gotten older, too. The heart of it is the terrifically drawn characters: Goofy and Max both are wonderfully written, both flawed but relatable. The music, while not quite as deep as the soundtracks of the best Disney masterpieces of the era, is still phenomenal: Both the Broadway-style book tunes and the diegetic pop tunes are well-written and amplify the movie’s themes. (The biggest issue is that it’s a bit sparse: I could have used a dark tune in the film’s second half as Goofy and Max’s relationship comes crashing down.)

One anecdote I like to share is that this soundtrack is one of the only albums I’ve ever coveted. It almost makes me miss the pre-streaming days. I hunted thrift store collections and eBay for years to find an affordable copy, but it never dropped below $50, a fortune for a teenager without disposable income. Then iTunes $0.99 tracks came along (not to mention Napster) and all it took was a few dollars and a CD-R.

The animation is fairly low-budget, and it shows on rewatches: look beyond whatever the frame’s central focus is and you’ll find lots of dead, still patches or repetitive character expressions. But the movie wrings the most out of its limited budget due to clever camera manipulation (great use of close-ups) and economical animation of key expressive features (e.g. faces). It’s not a masterpiece of the form, but it’s perfectly colorful and compelling-constructed given its resources. Director Kevin Lima thoughtfully composes its shots and offers a sunny color scheme, so the animation is more boon than burden.

There’s a fairly new factor for me, too. I’m a dad. A Goofy Movie socks me in the jaw from the flip perspective of the one I had as a kid: Goofy’s struggle with fatherhood, contrasted against Pete’s cocksure approach, is really thoughtful and emotional. The theme of empathetic, communicative parenting really shines through.

Maybe someday I’ll take off the rose-tinted glasses. I’m tempted to bump it down a rating, because, yeah, it’s extremely indebted to it’s a small story with visual cues so drawn from the aesthetic flavor of the early 1990s. And as a DisneyToons production, it’s not a technical powerhouse the way most of my other favorite animated films are.

You know what, though? Sometimes an intense flavor of its era adds a pleasant spice. Sometimes a story that shines in just the right ways transcends its smallness and hiccups that I’d otherwise bemoan. And sometimes nostalgia simply wins out, obfuscating my perspective on whether this is truly great or just truly meaningful to me specifically.

If I must accurately reflect my emotional reaction and personal esteem for the film (and I must), then Masterpiece it is.

April 2023 update: I appeared on Two Friends Watch to discuss my love A Goofy Movie. Listen here.

Is It Good?

Masterpiece: Tour De Good (8/8)

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2 replies on “A Goofy Movie (1995)”

I’m with you, man. I don’t even exactly have nostalgia for it. I saw it for the first time maybe seven years after it came out–I was in my 20s–and notwithstanding that I was an emotionally immature 20-something, I wasn’t a put-upon pubescent, so I reckon I saw it with some objectivity. It’s just a genuinely great comedy (it is arguably the purely funniest feature length project that any wing of Disney animation did–Sleepy Hollow is perhaps funnier but it’s a package film segment) and a very strong family film. I’d be tempted, even, to call it a stronger work of animation than one or two Renaissance films, though you might be mad if I said which ones. Not as showy or technologically advanced, of course, but it’s got terrific fundamentals. Top rank Disney musical, too. It’s got it all.

Man. I really love coming across fellow Goofy Movie lovers. There are dozens of us!

My daughters really latched onto this one, too, which has been a big Dad Win for me. My two year old has declared “On the Open Road” her favorite song.

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