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Celebrating 25 Years of The Greatest Movie: A Goofy Movie (1995)

April 7, 2020

I don’t remember the first time I watched A Goofy Movie. I don’t remember the first time I saw the character Goofy either. I don’t even remember when I made the declaration that A Goofy Movie was my all-time favorite film. Feels like it just always has been. I was introduced to it at some point in my elementary school-era daycare center. Most of my early memories were formulated around television and movies. And, in those days, the afternoons and early mornings at Children’s Friend Day Care center fed my novel but growing infatuation. Of the dozens of movies I remember seeing at that center (Pete’s Dragon, The Aristocats, The ButterCream Gang, The Never Ending Story, etc,.), the one that always stuck out as my favorite was Kevin Lima’s A Goofy Movie.

Released April 7, 1995, this animated feature marked Lima’s directorial debut before going on to head Disney’s Tarzan (1999), 102 Dalmations (2000), and Enchated (2007). Modeled after the Disney series Goof Troop, which followed the antics of Goofy, his son Maximillion, and his neighbors, A Goofy Movie fast forwards the lives of Goofy and Max. Both are now older with Max in high school dealing with the pressures of feeling unseen as fears of becoming his nerdy, lonely father have taken over his thinking. He’s compelled to do something, to stand out. So he performs a musical stunt in the middle of his principal’s presentation which makes him a legend with his peers but the enemy of authority. His principal places an urgent, furious call to Goofy scaring the poor old sap into reforming his son. And what better way to reform than by taking your teenage son on a cross-country road trip? Let the angst and goofy hijinks begin!

I cry EVERY TIME I watch this movie. Every time. What is it about this father/son road trip movie that gets me deep in the gut and always has? Honestly, I have no clue, but I’ll try to figure it out by the time I finish typing. It’s fascinating when I think of how A Goofy Movie has come to define me for so long without me fully being aware of it. Someone in middle school, maybe even high school, gave me the VHS tape as a gift because they knew how much I loved it. (When I threw out all my VHS’s in the early 2000’s it was one of three that I kept.) In my current profession, I am well respected for my movie tastes and knowledge of cinema. And yet, a co-worker recently texted me to tell me how she mistakenly said that The Tigger Movie was my favorite and a room full of grown, corporate-working adults corrected her in unison to say “no, it’s A Goofy Movie.”

For me, A Goofy Movie isn’t just a lighthearted Disney musical that I watch through nostalgic lenses. I see it as a flawless coming of age tale that captures the angst and awkwardness of learning to find yourself. It possesses an abundance of heart and maturity, and it’s a time capsule of America in the mid-90s. I’ve had multiple people tell me in recent years that for some reason black people tend to cite A Goofy Movie as their favorite Disney film. The first time I heard that statement, I was confused because I never thought of it as anything other than a cartoon. But then upon reflecting, I realized I’ve never not seen the characters as anything other than “black.” I only just now learned that by some accounts, it was considered the “Blackest Nerd Classic” of its time. While I never associated myself with the characters racially, because at the end of the day they’re dogs, I do think that my deep connection to the film did have something to do with it being set within an urban environment with darker leads driving the story.

Disney films are known for taking characters, and thus audiences, to a far-away magical land of adventure and fantasy, but A Goofy Movie explores the fantastic within the very real landscape of America. Los Angeles; Lake Destiny, Idaho; that backwoods southern Possum Park; amusement parks; baseball stadiums; monster truck shows— all relics of America in its bright shiny glory and its harsh, blemished reality. A Goofy Movie shows both the heartland of the country and its sprawling cities, where adventure awaits on the highways and backroads of this geographically exuberant land.

Max begrudgingly embarks on this adventure. And rightfully so. There’s a calling to fulfill and a girl to impress back at home. Goofy’s attempt to bond with his son is only ruining Max’s future happiness, from his teenage preceptive of course. Because of this, we get a film that is rooted in tension, and it crackles with angst, lies, and pain. Goofy’s best friend Pete warns him against his kind-hearted ways of dealing with Max. Pete’s method is simple, keep the kids “under your thumb, and they’ll never end up in the gutter.”

Typical of American society, there is indeed a gutter for Max to fall in. Max’s principal berates Goofy all the same for it, warning that Max’s gutter will be the electric chair—and all because he pulled off an incredible artistic stunt. It’s interesting watching that scene now in the America of 2020, as Goofy sits in shock repeating the awful words the principal (who is notably a lighter shade than Goofy and Max) is throwing at him: “dressed like a gang member, your son has started a riot.” Interestingly enough, this film was made in and around the time of the East Coast vs. West Coast rap beef, the Los Angeles Riots, and a rising mainstream focus on inner-city crimes and issues.

Nevertheless, my most beloved aspect of this movie—besides Tevin Campbell being the angel that he was—is the moral dilemma Max is challenged with: how far is he willing to take a lie and deceive to appear as something that he’s not? It’s an interesting concept that Disney often plays around with in humorous ways but it’s so affecting here because the stakes of that lie are so high. If shattered, that deception risks breaking bonds with the people Max loves. It’s a hell of a lesson to drop in a children’s film. A Goofy Movie is more than its often given credit for. It’s a heartfelt drama about the journey to self-actualization and confidence. It’s about conquering fears and owning what makes you unique. It’s all these things and more, and for these reasons it will always be among my all-time favorite films, right up there with Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless and Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night.

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