I recently spent $2.99 on Amazon Prime to rent the 1996 movie Crazy. Soon I was six again, bouncing along to Max Goof’s school assembly-rocking rendition of Powerline’s Stand Out.
Principal Mazur, the principal of Max’s high school, chastises Goofy for interrupting his son, saying that Max “dressed as a gang member caused the entire student body to riot,” warning Goofy to intervene before his son “ends up in the electric chair!” What was a children’s film about a father trying to bond with his son became a film about race and representation.
I’m running late. Black millennials believe “Goof Movie” is “The Blackest Disney Movie of All Time” because Max Goof is a great black nerd and Powerline is modeled after Bobby Brown and voiced by Tevin Campbell. It features positive portrayals of recognizable black characters whose situations speak to black audiences.
Goofy, who is supposed to be black, is rarely mentioned in arguments about the film’s blackness. Goofy’s presence in his own film undermines claims that it offers a positive representation of blackness and that the film is black.
Goofy’s muzzle, droopy ears, and possibly his tail under his pants make him look like a black labrador. Art Babbitt, the original Goofy animator, said in 1934, “Think of the Fool as a combination of an eternal optimist, a gullible good Samaritan, a halfwit, a still, good-natured colored boy, and a drifter.” His brain is foggy. He only understands his own jokes. He is polite and apologetic, but his mistakes embarrass him.
What animal is Goofy?
Goofy is not a dog. He is a new kind of minstrel performer who reimagines bad black stereotypes for white audiences. Early commercial animation used visual references to black musicians, whose structure and themes influenced vaudeville, which influenced animation. Cartoons such as The Minstrel Show (1932) and Mickey’s Mellerdrammer featured performers with blackened faces and white gloves (1933).
Goofy first appeared in Mickey’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a stagehand. In post-war America, Goofy transforms from a minstrel clown to a common man used to comment on modern culture (1961).
Fading popularity stopped Goofy’s solo productions in the late 1960s. His hiatus continued until the 1987 TV special Sport Goofy in Soccermania, which led to the 1992 series Goof Troop, which featured him raising his son as a single father – a prequel to A Goofy Movie.
The wacky film is about a father trying to connect with his teenage son despite his son’s attempts to separate them. It’s an animated world of anthropomorphic dogs with no explicit racial categories.
Still, there are era-specific assumptions: Max wears a baggy sweatshirt and pants, and his peers have beige or brown skin. Max is a cool black nerd because he’s shy and obsessed with Powerline, but he’s also a good dancer and ends up kissing the girl he’s falling for.
Goofy is a gullible, eternal optimist, a halfwit and a wanderer. He is asexual, although he has a son and gets along better with small children, proving that he is more of a child than an adult. Max’s distress at his father’s behavior stems from his early fears of becoming a father.
In the opening scene, Max and Roxanne’s idyllic dream turns into a nightmare when Max fails to suppress his father’s signature “ah-hyuk” and transforms into him. Max struggles throughout the film to control his expression, which identifies him as Goofy’s son, who engages in silly and cringe-inducing behavior because that’s how Max feels.
Max “ah-huhs” again after Roxanne kisses him in the final scene, but his embarrassment wears off after she told him she liked him. Max struggles and cannot suppress his laughter, which leaves him with no choice but to accept his ancestry and future.
Max will become Goofy, but he’s already Goofy. Max seems born to entertain, though unlike his father. Max uses pop music while Goofy does physical comedy. Max becomes hip and cool because of his performances at the Powerline assembly and concert at the film’s climax.
In doing so, he reifies a different stereotypical representation of blackness: the cool, hip black artist who appears radical and revolutionary because he appears to be in control of his sexuality and possesses cultural influence and capital.
An exploding car sends Goofy through Roxanne’s roof, drawing everyone’s attention in the final moments of the film.
I was obsessed with Goofy. Knowing Goofy is the product of a limited imagination fueled by the racial and class animosity that fueled my racial and class anxieties. He reminded me of that part of Chris Rock that I can dismiss as tortured, humiliating, and crude without being freed from basic presumptions.
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Goofy’s behavior is reminiscent of a shameful past. No matter how I dress or present myself, someone will see Goofy in me. I was also ashamed of being emotionally invested in ideas I rejected. The film reminded me that I have little control over the representations of blackness, their meaning, or how they make me feel. The film’s director and three screenwriters are white.
I realize this may seem far-fetched — I may have made a mountain out of a primary school film. If most black people who see a Goofy movie recognize themselves and feel good, isn’t that enough? Perhaps.
Criticism of pop culture must go beyond determining whether something offers a progressive or regressive representation of an underrepresented group, even if that causes frustration and ambivalence. When the movie ended, I felt the uncertainty of nostalgia. After a few minutes I remembered that Netflix had the sequel.
I remember liking it, but without the racial undertones. After 26 minutes Goofy, who attended the same college as his son, shows up at Max’s lecture rocking an afro and bells, ah-hyuk, oblivious to the condescending laughter of his classmates (the fraternity president asks, “Who’s that fool?”) and his son’s panic. Running away in 90 minutes is getting harder and harder.
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