Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 4)
A Goofy Movie is the outcast of the 1995 Disney movies. It was not nearly as acclaimed as Toy Story nor as popular as Pocahontas. Because it was made by Disney Toon studios and is an extension of an already-established property, it wasn’t even inducted into the official animated Disney canon. Yet, this is an animated movie that deserves a cult-like following and should be passed on to the next generation the way many of the mid-90s Disney classics will be.
What really makes A Goofy Movie stand out from others of the generation is how different its primary conflict is from any movies in the official Disney canon. It’s about the delicate, tenuous relationship between an independence-seeking adolescent and a well-meaning parent. Watching the movie again a couple of days ago, I was struck how balanced and fair the movie portrayed both sides.
Though he’s the weaker and more stereotypical of the two main characters, Max is still pretty relatable and sympathetic. He’s shown as shy and unpopular but has an appealing confidence. What teenage guy hasn’t dreamed of pulling some grand, rebellious act to win the heart of a girl? I’m not entirely sure how he ever expected to pull off his stunt without getting busted, or what the specific goals were, besides impressing Roxanne — still, the assembly is an impressive and exciting sequence in the film.
I also empathized with Max’s embarrassment towards his father. Every teenager has felt like their dad is Goofy at some point. The movie really captures how nauseatingly difficult it can be to deal with family life when your mind is on growing up.
Though I like Max, the heart of this movie belongs to Goofy. For a character conceived as bumbling, slapstick comic relief, he’s a convincing single dad. Though he’s a bit out of touch with his son’s life, he has a strong, palpable love for Max. He’s vulnerable, confused, and willing to learn as a father.
The theme of parenting is thoroughly explored by the movie. We see the disciplinarian style used by Pete on PJ clash with the laid-back approach Goofy uses on Max. The movie thankfully doesn’t present a definitive correct answer to its central question: What’s the right way to parent a teenager? Pete isn’t shown as a bad father so much as an overbearing one. The distance Goofy gives his son isn’t villified either. Since the movie is largely about parenting, the balanced conclusion — Max maintaining his independence but making space in his life for his father — is satisfying.
Contrary to what most of the negative reviews say, A Goofy Movie has no flaws so glaring that they really hamper the movie. One aspect of the movie I consider a flaw is how unsympathetic and unbelievable the principal is. He’s not just comic relief, either: His absurd, over-the-top phone call with Goofy drives a the core conflict.
Next, the culminating concert scene is a bit on the unbelievable side when compared to rest of the film. The scene is so much fun that I don’t really mind, but I can buy the argument that the climax exceeds the boundary of realism set up by the film.
Another of the movie’s flaws is also one of its traits that makes it so lovable. Compared to the archetypal Disney classics, there’s nothing enormous at stake. A high school crush, a date to a party, and a lie to a parent don’t seem like much when life and death are on the line in The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast.
But this makes for a strangely more realistic animated movie. Most of life is spent fighting little battles, many of which are small skirmishes in larger wars. Deep down, this movie is less about a wacky road trip and more about growing up, developing strong family relationships, and establishing an identity. The stakes don’t seem high on the surface, but the undercurrents of A Goofy Movie are just as powerful as the Disney animated fairy tales that everyone remembers.
Though the movie has substance, what really makes the movie tick is its tremendous comic timing. The only animated Disney movies that pack as many laughs as this are The Emperor’s New Groove and Hercules, and both of those are longer than this 78-minute film.
If you own the movie, go back and watch the scene where Roxanne’s dad first answers the door, the encounter with Big Foot, the car explosion at the end, or the visit to Lester’s Possum Park. They’re bizarre and hilarious and straight out of the imagination.
In particular, I want to commend the visit to Lester’s. The visit to the Chuck-E-Cheese ripoff shows the movie’s excellent use of sound for comic effect. The actual yodel song is comically pathetic, the little girl sitting next to Max has a great moment when she sings along in an atonal voice, and the scene makes good use of sound and laughter to heighten Max’s embarrassment. It’s a rather impressive (and funny) few minutes of animation.
The movie also has a visual energy and grace. The pastely colors and scenes are delightful. With a few exceptions (such as the excellent river sequence), the locales aren’t as stunning as the ones in Pocahontas or The Lion King, but the movie makes the best of what it has.
The uses of close-ups are particularly excellent, often evoking a particularly intense emotion. Consider the zoom-in on the principal as he rats out Max to Goofy, the opening dream sequence, Max hurriedly changing the map, Max approaching Roxanne during the assembly, and more.
Ultimately, it’s the details and playfulness in the movie that makes it such a delight every time I re-visit it. Every time through I notice something different. (A few details I noticed this time: the large lady in the convertible during the road trip is the vocalist in the concert, the nuns are at the monster truck show, the nerd who cheers for Stacy has a Star Trek shirt, and the ditzy-looking girl Max passes in the hall is also at Stacy’s party.) A Goofy Movie has a silly, fun tone throughout most of the movie, but has legs as a family drama, too.
A Goofy Movie is a hugely underrated animated Disney movie, and a classic in my book. Though not a part of the official Disney canon, it deserves to be remembered with the same reverence as many of those classics are. The delicate father-son relationship gives the movie humanity but the comic energy and timing keep the film afloat and enjoyable. It’s well-made, with a sharp attention to detail, and it captures the hormones and battles of adolescence with a very honest, balanced eye. Give it a shot if you enjoy animated movies.