“Till mine is the only face you’ll see, gonna stand out!… till you notice me.” ~Tevin Campbell
One of the most influential musical lyrics I have ever heard in my life. I am eternally indebted to this song.
DisneyToon Studios’ A Goofy Movie, to a lot of us 90s kids, is the pivotal 1990s pop-culture animated movie. It’s a little like taking the loveble angst of The Breakfast Club, mixing it with the road-trip antics of National Lampoon’s Vacation, and adding just a dash of the band-stand sequence from Revenge of the Nerds. It is essentially our generation’s version of a “good” John Hughes movie, except with animated dog people.
The story basically amounts to Max, Goofy’s son, now that he’s all grown up and in high school, wanting to impress and ask out the girl of his dreams, Roxanne, before the last bell on the last day of school rings. Max even has an entire musical number all about how he wishes that it was the day after today, because then he would have already enacted his plan to impress and ask Roxanne out, and he also wouldn’t be so nervous any more. But alas, Max doesn’t have a phone number for the Doctor, so he has to go through life in a linear fashion.
Near the end of the day, the entire school is brought into the auditorium/gym room for a special pre-summer vacation assembly, at which Max hopes to put on a big splash presentation in order to, well… impress Roxanne. But funny thing, this big presentation isn’t planned, nor was it approved by the school faculty. And so Max essentially hijacks the stage, throws the Principal down a trap-door, and begins put on a concert where he lip-syncs and dances to a very popular song, called “Stand Out,” sung by the biggest rock-star in the world, Power-Line (a Michael Jackson knock-off).
Upon finishing the song prematurely, Max is taken to the Principal’s office, where he meets up with Roxanne, and the two have a short moment to bond, at which point Max awkwardly manages to ask Roxanne if she’d like to go with him to a big party being put on by Roxanne’s friend, Stacy. And of course, Roxanne agrees.
Afterwards, Principal Mazur contacts Goofy at his workplace to express his deep concern for Goofy and his son Max, practically vilifying Max and yelling into the phone about how doomed Max will be if he continues to pull stunts like he did today. And due to the harshness and abruptness of this call, Goofy realizes he must take action to ensure that his son doesn’t continue to go down this negative path.
So once Max gets home from the last day of school, Goofy decides to take his son on a fishing trip across country, following the same route and same rest stops and gas stations that he and his dad did way back in the late 1970s. This of course blind-sides Max, as he just got the girl of his dreams to go out with him to a party, and must now go along on a seemingly unprovoked and unscheduled road-trip with his father to only God knows where, which may ruin all his chances to become Roxanne’s boyfriend. And the rest of the film is pretty much what you might expect, if you’re familiar at all with National Lampoo’sVacation, or the Robin Williams film, RV.
I think it’s a little hard to nail down just what I love about this movie. There’s the relatable teen drama, there’s Max’s friend Bobby and his quotable dialogue, there’s actor Wallace Shawn as another self-absorbed nasally-voiced authority figure, and there’s the ever enduring likability of Goofy. But I think we all know what made this movie the absolute best thing ever… the music.
People who aren’t fans of A Goofy Movie may not agree with me on how awesome the music is. But I think those of us who have “Stand Out” and “Eye To Eye” loaded on our I-pods know what I’m talking about. These songs were phenomenal. They were so bright, so fun, and so totally fitting for the 90s pop-rock scene, that… I’m actually hard pressed to find any songs even remotely similar to them from any other artist.
Funny enough, the closest sound I can think to match them to would be Bobby Brown from the late 1980s, and yet Bobby Brown was actually originally meant to perform the songs for the Goofy Movie, until a drug scandal turned that decision around. So Disney opted to go with up-and-comer Tevin Campbell instead, and I really think that was a fabulous decision. This film is probably Tevin’s only real claim to fame, as I’ve never once heard any of his other tracks before. Although apparently he was a hot thing back when this film came out, as you can both see him and hear about him a few times on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
By far my favorite song is “Stand Out,” because as I said at the very beginning, this song is very important to me, in that it inspired me and encouraged me to reach for the stars and become somebody that others would want to get to meet and get to know. Not really in a super-star kind of way, and not in a way that would make me seem like a self-important douche. But like many young teenagers, I often felt very alone and un-liked when I was in middle-school and high-school. It was only when I got to my second high school in Rome, GA that I finally gained a fairly large group of friends who all mutually enjoyed my company. But even today I retain a similar feeling as I did back then, that I have to keep improving myself to be the type of person people would like to get to know, and would like to work with, have fun with, or even date. Not to say that I want to change “who” I am in any way, just how I present myself to the people around me, how I carry myself, and what sort of things I‘m doing that make me a productive and creative individual. And I could not have gotten to where I am today without this song, as well as many other similar songs that came along afterwards.
Now there is also plenty to not like about this movie, as well as things to take issue with.
For example, if Goofy had always loved and trusted his son up to the point that he got the fateful phone-call, then why wouldn’t he have the sense to talk over things with his son first; to figure out just what was going on? I know Goofy was worried and scared and “in-the-moment,” but he also wasn’t scrambling to get Max moving on the road, Goofy was carefully packing up the car, checking off his list, and making sure everything was in its place. Any normal father would’ve scolded their children the moment they got home, and sat down to have a serious discussion. But Goofy just up and believes his son has a serious delinquency problem and wants to come up with a solution to stop it, rather than try to understand fully where the problem might be coming from (if there really was any to begin with).
One of my earliest issues with A Goofy Movie was actually that it was too freaky and somewhat scary at times. Mostly when I was much younger, but some of these still creep me out.
There’s the opening dream-sequence where Max has a rather… for lack of a better word, “sexy” encounter with Roxanne amongst a field of wheat. At which point, just before the two of them kiss, Max suddenly transforms into his dad (Goofy) in a very wolf-man-like fashion.
There’s the ominous phone-call from Principal Mazur about Max’s questionable and dangerous antics earlier that day. This scene is actually really jarring both because the Principal has the nerve to practically demonize Max and proclaim him a career criminal based on that one incident. And because the Principal has such an angry and overblown reaction, to the point that he just hangs up the phone after yelling in Goofy’s ear. I think it’s pretty safe to say that despite what Max did, Principal Mazur should be fired.
I know that if some kid really did pull a surprise concert stunt like that in a school, they’d be expelled on the spot. But the world of movies tends to lower general expectations, rules, and regulations for the sake of giving us a more idealized view of the world.
I mean, you ever notice how many Disney shows had girls wearing crop-tops in high school, when that totally would never fly in any real educational establishment? Some schools don’t even let you bring in back-packs. And some are now even making hand-holding illegal. College is so much better.
Then there’s the awkward and almost pitiful scene that we experience at Possum-Park where everything has fallen into ruin. The animatronics are nearly broken, the place looks rotted and grim, and the poor man in the Lester costume gets his ass handed to him by Max and those rabid toddlers. I just felt so sorry for the guy, you know?
And of course, we can’t forget Mr. Big-Foot, who comes screaming into frame with his huge mouth, big teeth, and fish-eye lens. That whole scene in the woods is extremely tense and off-putting. You really feel like he could tear Max and Goofy apart. And it stands in such striking contrast to the atmosphere in the rest of the film, because up until that point, there was never anything quote-unquote “otherworldly” or “mythical” that happens; just a bit of dream-land fantasy fulfillment.
But my biggest issue with the film, by far, is Max: because he is an ass-hole to his dad, mainly during the first half of the road-trip.
Now Goofy may be really unfair to his son for not trying to understand his issues instead of throwing him into the car and taking him on a surprise fishing trip across the country. But Max seems to have absolutely no respect for his dad by this point in his life. He’s incredibly embarrassed, he thinks all of his dad’s ideas are stupid and childish, and sometimes he completely ignores him. I know that that’s all the kind of stuff that comes with being a teenager, but I think Max takes his issues with his father a bit too far. Even I had problems with my dad, but I never dared to verbalize my issues with him in a manner any harsher than a slight dip in my tone of voice, because I would have gotten in serious trouble for it.
But Max just goes full force and insults Goofy and his choice of road-side attractions by screaming at the top of his lungs and calling just about everything his dad does “stupid” and “idiotic.” Which leaves me thinking, what is this kid’s problem? I can completely understand why he would be angry and that he would totally want to verbalize his anger. But he still shouldn’t have done it, or at least not as harsh and candidly as he did.
And this awkward unbalanced relationship between Goofy and his son is further emphasized when Goofy talks to his neighbor Pete about proper parenting strategies, and how you should keep your children “under your thumb.” I don’t entirely agree with this philosophy; as I would much rather foster a mutual understanding and a mutually respectable bond with my future children. But I do think Goofy has allowed himself to be too soft and too forgiving by this point in his life as a parent. So it’s good that things turn out as well as they do by the last third of the film, because it sorely needed to happen in both Max and Goofy’s lives.
Okay, so enough about the bad points, what are some more good?
I think one of the most striking aspects about the film has to be the animation, because whether you believe it or not, this movie was made by the same Disney studio branch that brought you The Lion King 2, Cinderella 2, The Little Mermaid 2, The Fox and the Hound 2, Bambi 2, and the Tinker Bell films. But this happens to be only their second feature film from way back in the early 90s, and was actually one that was shown in theaters.
The only other movie this company did (besides Ducktales: Legend of the Lost Lamp) that was shown in theaters was Return to Neverland: the 2nd Disney Peter Pan film. But even by as early as 1997, only 3 years after A Goofy Movie, this Australian animation branch had downgraded and homogenized its animation style to the point that it just looked weak and production-lined. And every other film they have ever made since looks exactly the same. The character designs may change a little, but the drawing style never changes, same with the animation motifs, distinctive character movements, and the way each film is inked and painted. If you were ever to watch a series of their films back to back to back, I guarantee it would start to hurt your eyes.
The nice thing, though, is that as long as you watch DisneyToon’s films in short bursts, you realize that their animation skill, understanding of movement, and the 12 principles are actually rather good. They know what they’re doing and they are worthy of the Disney brand and the many Disney projects they work on. I can’t quite say the same for Wang Film Studios, which animated the majority of the Disney animated TV series. But what can you do?
During the production of A Goofy Movie, DisneyToon Studios had just started getting their groove and their standard of animation going. The production of Ducktales: Legend of the Lost Lamp was quite rough, and the artwork bounced back and forth between smooth and detailed, and rough and undefined. The opening sequence of that film is probably the best looking part of the whole picture. But then you get to A Goofy Movie. Now everything is much more consistent, the character designs fluctuate only in a few specific moments, the line quality and animation fluidity is comparable to Disney’s primary Hollywood studio at least 5 years prior: but maybe just a little less clean on the final film print.
You have to keep in mind, A Goofy Movie came out in 1995, and The Lion King—one of Disney’s most well designed and elegant animated features—was made just the year before, in 1994. The quality and design of both films cannot compare with each other. Lion King knocks Goofy out of the park. But in terms of acceptable theatrical animation quality VS TV-Special animation quality, they both stand above that threshold. So that’s quite a good margin to reach.
The one element that likely makes this film stand as a time-capsule for the 90s the most is the character designs and the fashion. It’s really indicative of the teenage interest and demographic.
You’ve got the token Jocks, the token Nerds, that one Hot-Chick in the skimpy outfit (that again, no real high-school in their right mind would let her wear), the token Friendly Rich Girl that throws parties and bashes for any and all who want to come (as opposed to her counterpart: the Spoiled Rich Girl who only invites the kids she deems worthy), the token Goth Kids, the token Cheerleaders, the token Slackers. And the token Attractive Girl who is very sweet and likable but is still difficult to talk to if you happen to be Max: the token under-appreciated and seemingly ordinary protagonist with a heart of gold.
Generic and stereotypical portrait-like characters such as these may seem unrealistic and un-relatable. But I assure you, on the contrary, they are far more relatable in this instance than they are usually portrayed, and come off as more believable because of how they are framed and presented with the animation. I feel like this world could be real under the right circumstances. And I have a feeling that more big city schools might have actually been like this back in the day, and probably more so back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s when these stereotypes were born into public consciousness.
I guess the only other thing I can talk about is the fact that I really wish they would have expanded a bit more on Max and Roxanne’s relationship in the sequel. Like, either had him and her going to the same college, which wouldn’t have been a bad thing by any means. Max doesn’t really get a new girlfriend, he just sort of hits on a girl or two. It’s PJ who ends up getting a new girlfriend, along with Goofy of course.
But what’s weird is that not only is Roxanne exempt from the sequel, called An Extremely Goofy Movie, she’s not even mentioned or hinted at. No mention of her in passing, no acknowledgment that Max ever went out with her. I know young love like that can often easily end in a messy break up, or at least in an uneventful way that makes both parties prefer to just forget about each other. But come on, this is movie logic we’re talking about here. There was no reason to ret-con her. I really liked her. At least they brought her back briefly for The House of Mouse for their Valentines Day episode.
So, that’s A Goofy Movie for ya: A very fun, musical, and colorful look at the angst-driven and emotionally difficult lives of young teenagers in the midst of an unrequested road-trip with their awkward parent(s). Something I’m sure we can all relate to.
Someday soon I will talk more about the sequel, which I have just about as much fondness for, and I think it too is a rather underrated sequel that ought to be appreciated more often, despite the lack of Roxanne.