CHILDHOOD REVISITED – Goof Troop


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.

Goofy and Max

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.

Share

, , ,

  1. #1 by Nina on March 6, 2014 - 10:27 pm

    Not Disney’s best, but I still enjoy it, if only because the pet names Pete and Peg give each other in every episode are so delightfully strange.

  2. #2 by Kevin Johnson on March 7, 2014 - 2:06 pm

    Nina :
    Not Disney’s best, but I still enjoy it, if only because the pet names Pete and Peg give each other in every episode are so delightfully strange.

    You know, I noticed those names and while they were indeed strangely cute, I kinda wish they went somewhere with it? I think noticing them once in a while is fine, but via a binge its clear how kinda throwaway there were.

(will not be published)

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.