Goof Troop’s energetic sensibility can’t mask its woefully apparent limitations, marking the first real crack in the Disney Afternoon’s armor.
Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, Talespin, and Rescue Rangers mark the highest points in the Disney Afternoon’s repertoire, although Gummi Bears should be exulted as the glorious progenitor among them. Disney’s foray into TV animation was flying high, mainly due to those show’s unilateral focus on their premises. Simply put, they knew what they were doing, even though it took a few episodes to get there. So it would seem like gangbusters that their next show, one focused on Disney’s most iconic “comedic” figure, Goofy, would be an easy no-brainer. Goofy himself is wacky and inept enough to be put in any situation, creating an endless amount of hilarious gold.
There were problems though.
First, though, we should talk about the pitch. At Comic-Con 2013, during the Disney Afternoon Appreciation Panel, they showed a video, of all things, of the pitch for Goof Troop. In it, they show various visuals of Goofy and his son Max getting into crazy situations. The speaker talks, specifically, of the show being primarily about Max dealing with and adjusting to his father’s inherent goofiness. It’s a trait that he’s embarrassed by but ultimately overcomes, because in the end, family is important, and love conquers all.
There’s a few things here I need to point out. This pitch doesn’t describe the show at all, except maybe for one episode. This pitch is more in line with A Goofy Movie. In fact, Max, in the show, is quite used to and accepting of his father’s clumsiness, adjusting and expecting it (kinda like a child expecting his or her alcoholic parent to be unconscious on the floor when they get home from school – which is a dark metaphor but stick with me here), even using it to his advantage. Also, if the behind the scenes talk is to be believed, then Goof Troop with through a number of iterations before finally ending up being a crazy, cartoony take on The Honeymooners in suburbia. The name of the show actually came from the original iteration, which had Goofy in charge of a Boy Scouts group.
It’s telling that, despite the number of people at the panel (and with all due respect to Rob Paulson and Jim Cummings), that no one in the audience seems particularly keen on discussing Goof Troop. Here over at Mike Peraza’s blog (who is a great guy personally), he discusses working on various pitch and concept work for a new creative director, who struggled mightily with coming up with a firm direction for the show. There’s nothing wrong with a show going through multiple passes or directions during the pre-production stage, but Peraza, an industry vet, clearly implies this creative was somewhat out of his league, bouncing around idea after idea. Of all the creative decisions, Goof Troop lands with the blandest set up possible – middle-class America – made even more blander by design.
Goof Troop tries to function on two sole concepts: six unique characters, and absurd, cartoon action. And to be fair, the show tries their best to making those two concepts work. Beyond Goofy, there’s his son Max, and the neighboring family – Pete, his wife Peg, and their children PJ and Pistol. Each character has a strong comic voice and a comic personality to drive them. That drive allows each character to get so caught up in their personal endeavors that it more often than not results in a wacky, insane bout of comic activity. For a chunk of the episodes, Disney itself took over the animation, outsourcing the work to its Japan, France, and Australian animation companies. This, in all honesty, results in some beautiful visuals, especially with the facial expressions, which must have been hard due to the elongated muzzles of characters like Goofy. Whatever one says about the show itself, you can be sure that two-thirds of the animation will be top-notch (the other one-third was completed by an animation studio called Kennedy. Now, I don’t want to harp too much on this, but Kennedy Animation is AWFUL. They somehow had their hand in Tiny Toons, Darkwing Duck, Bonkers, and other shows, and their rubbery, squishy, off-model style just ruins everything.)
It isn’t as if the characters are lacking. Pete, voiced by Jim Cummings, who pretty much owns the Disney Afternoon VO circuit, is great, with his constant scheming and aggressive malapropisms. Pistol, with her limited role, is actually the star of the show. It seems like writers can mine a lot of great comedy out of innocent, young girls, letting them rant excessively and spout random, on-point commentary on whatever’s going on. Max and PJ have a nice, tight bond of friendship that feels real, even as the show gets over-the-top. Then there’s Goofy himself. I mean, you can’t go wrong with him. The epitome of wackiness, Goofy goes along with pretty much every plot thrown at him, and of course things go wrong fast to toss him into the air or over a cliff, and Bill Farmer throws his all into every scream, laugh, chuckle, and howl. There’s also Waffles and Chainsaw, the pets, who mostly react to all the crazy antics. (You might notice I didn’t mention Peg. I’ll get to her in a second.)
Yet beyond that – beyond the characters and the animation of varying quality – there’s really nothing else there. If you’re going to do a show with limited characters, you have to really make the “world” of the show shine, like Wonder Over Yonder is currently doing. You need villains (more accurately, antagonists) and a setting that seems to grow as the characters do. Goof Troop fails at that. Spoonerville is a town hardly worth mentioning. There’s really no development – not even the cartoon kind. And even though the show really tries its best, it can’t help but feel hollow.
A lot of that has to do with the plotting. About sixty percent of the episodes involve a contest of some kind that Pete wants to win, so much so that he’ll exploit Max, PJ, and in particular Goofy to make it happen. That’s really it. Sometimes, Pete and Goofy will get caught up in something, creating an Odd Couple-type bout of wackiness. On occasion, Goofy will regale Max with “family history” stories, which simply ends up putting the characters in a fantasy or historical setting. All of this feels so forced. I don’t think the show is lazy so much as I believe they really thought they could mind some long-term comedy from a singular location based on the characters. Hell, they managed 78 episodes. Yet with no willingness to adhere to any kind of overall consistency, with characters changing and acting solely based on the kind of an episode they want to produce, Goof Troop only grows blander with time.
Take “Axed By Addition,” above. Max tries to help PJ cram for a math test, after his father threatens to destroy his life if he fails (I’ll get into this questionable family dynamic in a second as well). This escalates more and more, as PJ starts to freak out about eggs, which leads to more Max scheming, which leads to a bucket-list like scenario where PJ thinks his father is literally going to kill him and Pete mistakenly thinks PJ is dying of a sickness. It’s a lot of stuff, and Goof Troop thrives on “stuff,” for better or worse. Yet all of this deflates when PJ’s report card comes in and he gets an A. There’s a big gap of development here, and all that elaborate comic momentum leads to nothing. We don’t learn about the school, or other factors adding to that A, or why Pete is suddenly so obsessed with PJ’s grades, or what Peg thinks of all this, or why Max isn’t taking the same test. I’m not saying the show needs anything extreme like continuity, but Goof Troop is too focused on the set pieces and less on the characters in relation to the set pieces. The rest of the episodes overall aren’t like this, so Goof Troop can’t even set a consistent tone.
That’s just it, though. Once you “get” Goof Troop, that’s it. There’s no hidden surprises within the characters or the world. There’s nothing to marvel at, nor is there any reason to get antsy. Each episode engages with its premise and tries so hard to make it work, to its detriment. The appeal is ultimately determined by how much you can enjoy the hugely exaggerated, wildly insane physical antics, with ridiculous, wacky chase sequences and extreme bouts of animated action. If animated by Disney, in particular their Australian branch, the visuals can be strong enough to at least make it fun to watch. If the storyboarders and writers fall flat, everything pretty much becomes a slog, a repetitive, semi-forced series of stories based on misunderstandings, scheming, or competition.
Every so often, Goof Troop goes surreal, which by default makes them more interesting, but not necessarily better. Breaking even the limited logic of the show’s premise allows for some Wackyland-esque developments, like an anthropomorphic band of brass instruments that constantly play When the Saints Go Marching In (“Dr. Horatio’s Magic Orchestra”), or a talking hat that grants genuinely magical powers to Max (“Talent to the Max”). Yet because the overall world of Goof Troop is unclear, indistinct, and awkwardly malleable, both from a diegetic and non-diegetic perspective, nothing worthwhile sticks. So a potentially rich episode where Pistol gets so caught up with an imaginary friend to the point that it becomes alive and threatens to whisk her away, due to Max’s and PJ’s neglect, has no substance since the show, overall, doesn’t function with that kind of drama or character development. It just comes off random, a throwaway attempt at some kind of pathos (“Pistolgeist”).
Goof Troop E71 – Pistolgeist
Vezi mai multe video din animatie
That being said, there are some significant dynamics at play, but whether the creators were aware of them or not, it’s hard to say. There’s a distinct class distinction between Goofy and Max, who frequently struggle with maintaining finances and making ends meet, and Pete’s family, who own a boat, a pool, and a huge screen TV. Goofy’s homespun wisdom and sympathy come in direct contrast to Pete’s overzealous, scheming, conservative worldview, which includes inciting fear and confusion into his son PJ. It’s played for laughs but that is one child that is seriously going to need some therapy. And to be clear, Pete and Goofy are funny in their own ways, but because they fail to interact with anyone else, because there’s nothing to the show beyond the main cast and their two houses, it starts to get old, fast. The children tend to be the better set of entertainers, because they have potential to interact with more unique situations, but rarely does the show allow this. Pistol’s hyperactivity and passion for whatever thing she likes currently is fun but inconsistent, and far too often Max and PJ get drawn into their own low-key schemes and contests, rarely dealing with them actually growing up. (Their dated slang works because they’re frequently portrayed as losers, and really only start to spout “radical” lines when excited.)
Then there’s Peg. I’m hit or miss on Peg, who comes across as a misappropriated feminine icon. April Winchell is perfectly cast as Pete’s wife, who can go from sweet and loving to loud and vicious in an instant. Peg is a darling, always helpful to Goofy and shrill to Pete, especially during his most crazy schemes. Yet, it’s rare that her big mouth actually results in anything. Peg doesn’t really get to do much. She rarely stops Pete’s ridiculous plans, just re-routes them, and only doles out the punishment after everything goes wrong. She also tends to give into Goofy’s more stupider actions, to the point that, sometimes, Pete comes off as right. Peg is a real estate agent, so she definitely has potential, but actually see her work maybe once or twice, and Pete’s always getting in the way. We don’t learn about her job or what she thinks of it, always running back to this awful, awful man and stooping to his level. The one episode where she’s the lead has her trying to force her way into high society (“Goofin’ Up the Social Latter”). Forget for a second that, as a real estate agent, she’d probably have enough access to high society already. It’s wildly out-of-character for her to act stupid to get in touch with a “better” class of people.
But in the end, this really isn’t her fault, or some failure in female characterization. The fault lies at the show itself, hoping to bypass the lack of structure and development at the core of the show via top-notch voice work and wacky action. This only works for a few episodes, before spiraling in a rut of sameness and repetition. Even when going surreal (like a fish piloting a robot shark) or classic (with Goofy’s forays into a task narrated by a voice reminiscent of some old-school Disney shorts), it can never push past its basic setup, because there IS nothing else there. Goof Troop masks its hollowness and lack of ambition like Pete’s Used Cars – nice on the outside, but easily broken apart with the slightest prodding.
Tumblr Tuesday is tiny again!
– I wrote about Twitch Plays Pokemon – and updated the writeup with a few more thoughts on the victory:
– And some clarifications on various Asian clothing:
Gargoyles has reached a point where it has enough characters in its arsenal to simply enjoy itself. After these two episodes it has become clear that the show isn’t quite as interested in developing events over a long-term story arc (although that aspect is there) so much as its just enjoying making things complex and exciting, which seem to occur pretty much after “Outfoxed.” I mean, “Protection” only stars Goliath and Broadway, and “The Cage” completely redesigned Derek Maza/Talon with nary a mention. If I could go back and adjust some grades, I might add half a notch, but they’re set in stone like the gargoyles at night. BOOM.
Gargoyles is playing around with story structures and genre styles, and “Protection” takes on the undercover racket. The only thing about these more episodic programs is that there’s less to discuss in terms of character development and overall story arcs. This episode focuses on Elisa as it seems like she’s gone rogue, pushing in on Anthony Dracon’s protection turf. Remember when he was arrested way back in “Deadly Force?” He’s free now, via a couple of bribes and connections, and he’s now extorting businesses for money, and the cops are on his tail.
“Protection” tries to portray Elisa as a cop who actually went bad, which is ridiculous. In fact, the fact that Dracon even entertains the thought makes the notorious villain seem idiotic. To its credit, the episode handles it surprisingly well, with a number of clever visual cues to clue you in. Elisa disappearing for several days; key conversations among cops when criminals are within earshot; Elisa’s continued flirtiness (which I still don’t like – seeing her with jacket down and her shoulders bare is just not right – but I’m not gonna discredit a cop who knows what she’s doing.). I love in particular the scene where Elisa is suspended by the chief right outside of the interrogation room, door wide open so Dracon’s henchman can hear. It’s such an obvious plant! I’ll admit I was a bit miffed at that, because 1) if it was a real suspension, then the lack of protocol was horrendous, or 2) if it was fake, then the bad guy would clearly know it was fake. Yet as we all know, some criminals are dumb fucks, and of course the henchman that overheard all that BS while in the interrogation room called his boss and told him all about it.
And I can buy that. My question is, why not at least let the gargoyles know? Why didn’t Elisa tell them that she would be off the grid for a while because she’d be undercover? (The younger gargoyles would explain to Goliath what that means.) It’s sort of “illegal” for a critic to get fanboy-esque in over-explaining details not within the show itself, but I think that Elisa needed the gargoyles in the dark. The plan was executable without them, but she allowed a bit of room to engage them (and slightly manipulate them) in case they interfered. So when they arrive to mistakenly save her when she’s about to meet with Dracon, she talks them up, which actually ups her cache with the crime boss.
I’m not sure how much my explanation holds up with the true intentions of the writers. There’s a certain amount of leeway you have to swallow, especially when Goliath and Broadway burst into the meeting between Elisa and Dracon, only to accept being accomplishes without being privy to the entire sting operation. In its own way, it’s about trust, a deep trust that exist between Elisa and the gargoyles. Goliath knows that Elisa wouldn’t have truly changed (a stark contrast to the doubts cast upon a “treacherous” Goliath in “Double Jeopardy”), so I can see them joining in on the racket, knowing full well that Elisa would reveal her endgame. Goliath also is committed to protecting Elisa no matter what. (This opens up a quandary: would Goliath follow Elisa if she did go evil? Trick question! She’d never go evil. The question is moot.)
I enjoyed this episode and the underlying sleezeball quality among Dracon, Glasses, and the rest of the crew. In some ways, I kind of wish the show eschewed developing plot threads and settled into a grove of good police work and some badass gargoyle action. The sting goes as well as you’d expect, and now with Dracon and his gang in jail for the second time, I can’t imagine we’d be returning to them. Beyond having a smooth voice, Dracon is in no way a major player in the large scheme of things. He’s a one-and-done criminal, a nice distraction for Elisa, Matt Bluestone, and the gargoyles (well, at least two of them) to practice with.
“The Cage” has a bit more going for it. We revisit Elisa’s brother, Derek, who was mutated way back in “Metamorphosis” into a fake gargoyle. It seems he and the rest of the experiments have not only banded together, but went ahead and re-joined Xanatos’ side. (They are referred to as the Mutates.) Which is pretty sketchy from an outsider perspective, since, no matter how you slice it, it’s basically Xanatos’ fault that Derek became who he is. Yet Derek is absolutely convinced that Goliath and Severus actions are the cause of their current grotesque state (during their rescue of Maggie, they accidentally destroyed the cure). Since he thinks Severus is dead, Derek – excuse me, Talon – is obsessed over Goliath’s involvement, and wants him dead. It looks like Derek has gotten a shave, haircut, and dye job while away. Ballsy on the part of the show to flashback to his original design and not even comment on the transformation, which looks to be from wolf-thing to panther-thing. Perhaps its for the best?
Elisa thinks she saw Talon outside her window. Golitath basically confirms it, and they head over to Xanatos’ castle to at least try and talk to the guy, upon which they are immediately attacked by Talon’s “henchmen,” Fang and Claw. Things only go downhill from there: even though Elisa explicitly tells Talon Severus isn’t dead, he doesn’t believe her. He’s so obsessed with revenge over Goliath that he thinks the real gargoyle is manipulating her. When Maggie, the innocent lady who was transformed in “Metamorphosis,” suggests that maybe Elisa is right, he only swears revenge on him as well. And this episode slightly loses me.
Part of the issue is time. We’ve spent so much of it away from any mention of Elisa’s and Derek’s relationship. So Derek immediately dismissing Elisa’s claim seems forced. I mean, I get it, but that Talon doesn’t even kind of entertain that possibility seems awkward. Even though he and Elisa disagreed so often, what made them work so well together was that, when it came to the bottom line, they understood each other. Watching Talon blindly rage over Goliath (and by proxy Severius) doesn’t work so well. The other issue is that I’m somewhat unclear of Talon’s motivation. Does he want revenge, or does he want a cure? Part of why he’s still hanging around Xanatos is that there’s a promise of one; upon hearing Severus is still alive, he wants him dead. Wouldn’t he want to, at the very least, hear more?
Obsession is one of those things that for the life of me I can’t really get into when it comes to entertainment (and yes, I have issues with Vertigo). It always seems to me that a lot of creators sacrifice motivation for the drama that obsessions can create, despite the fact that obsession is essentially motivation unchecked. So when a mysterious winged figure kidnaps the alive-and-well Sevarius, we’re led to believe that Talon is behind it, or at the very least, someone on his team. Yet Sevarius comment clearly implied that Sevarius’ fate was death, if he fell into the Mutates’ hands in any way. So, as unlikely as it seems, the kidnapper is none other than Goliath.
Even though Derek’s motivational actions aren’t clear, Goliath kidnapping Sevarius and forcing him to make a cure is. He truly cares for Elisa, and he can’t bear to watch his friend go through much pain. His actions are distinctly, um, “gargoylian,” and Elisa tells him that despite meaning well, his actions aren’t helping. It’s a nice moment, reinforcing their friendship and loyalty to each other. Another really small but nice moment occurs between Maggie and Brooklyn. Maggie inadvertently leads a raid onto their clocktower, but they fight them off. Brooklyn, who in particular, walks on all fours in a crawling position, reinforcing a wounded-self-image reflected off Maggie’s perceptions, lets them go to gain a bit of trust in the freaked-out girl. Maggie herself was so obsessed with finding a cure too, yet part of her was willing to listen to outside points of view. The contrast between Derek and Maggie is striking. Derek closed himself off, refusing any other suggestions, while Maggie, who was the most desperate to change, is now entertaining different perspectives, and even starts to embrace her mutated state.
Two other things to note. Even with a limited amount of time, I will give “The Cage” props for developing Fang and Claw in such a tiny amount of time. Claw took a vow of silence since the change, while Fang clearly embraced his transformation, with a few quips and actions that made him my favorite character (outside of Matt Bluestone, of course) by bypassing the whole “angst” aspect. The other thing? I’m not sure how Talon figured out Xanatos was bullshitting him this entire time. At the very end, the episode kinda gets convoluted, especially since everyone’s true motivations are muddled and aren’t portrayed clearly, but the gist is that Xanatos saves Sevarius (he’s too valuable to be killed), and Talon’s clan ostensibly joins Goliath’s clan. There’s a wonderful moment at the end when Elisa introduces her family to the transformed Derek (as well as his transformed buddies) and it works out surprisingly well. For an episode predicated on anger, obsession, and revenge, ending on such a nice, redemptive note does this show wonders.
The final shot of the cage Goliath kept Sevarius in? Not so much.
“Protection” B+/”The Cage” B+