There’s that great scene in Stand By Me where, sitting around a campfire, the boys pondered things that seemed important at the time.
Among these talking points was Wil Wheaton’s question, “Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog. What’s Goofy?”
The conversation ended with a chubby Jerry O’Connell’s somewhat frustrated, “That’s weird. What the hell is Goofy?”
Most Disneyologists (a word I just now made up*) agree that Goofy is, in fact, a dog. But how does that explain the advantages he holds over Pluto: the ability to drive, to hold down a job, the capacity for speech?
How can two characters of the same species be so completely different?
Perhaps, the answer lies in their histories…
Goofy’s first appearance was in Mickey’s Revue (1932), but he was an anonymous character. Over the next two years, his name was changed with the regularity of an over-sharer in the Witness Relocation Program, including Dippy Dawg, Dippy the Goof, and Mr. Geef before finally settling on Goofy in Orphans’ Benefit (1934).
So here we have him listed as a ‘Goof’ and as a ‘Dawg’ (apparently, Disney was the hip-hop Noah Webster of his day). Neither of these titles mean anything, however, as they are not actual words and, therefore, offer no actual insight or information.
What about Pluto, then?
Pluto first appeared in Walt Disney’s short The Chain Gang (1930), but the dog had no name. In the next appearance, The Picnic (1930) the dog is named not Pluto, but Rover. It was in The Moose Hunt (1931), that the dog is called Pluto the Pup.
With an impossibly unoriginal name like Rover, then being called Pluto the Pup, it’s pretty obvious that Pluto is, in fact, a dog. Not a lot of room left for misunderstanding by the Disney folks on that one.
So, let’s say they are both dogs. How can we explain their obvious differences? I have a few theories on this.
Theory 1: Moment of Darwinism
Evolution (sorry, William Jennings Bryan) is not something that happens overnight. It’s a series of minute changes that take place over thousands of years. That said, there still has must be that moment when the old makes way for the new, when one hands over the evolutionary keys to the other. Perhaps what we are witnessing with Pluto and Goofy is the moment of evolution in the animated world of canines. Pluto, who failed to evolve for whatever reason (I’m guessing, though, that he was prevented by the tyrannical rule of his owner), is forced to remain a pet–whereas Goofy, allowed to evolve, can enjoy a sense of independence and autonomy, but a poor sense of style (one that seems as though it were lifted from the nearest dead hobo rather than from a department store.
Later Goofy cartoons do show him wearing suits, so we give him a break).
Theory 2: Touch of Devilry
It is no secret to anyone who may have seen Fantasia that Mickey Mouse has, at times, dabbled in the art of black magic. How far this carried over into his daily life we will never know, but it is safe to assume (much like with Ozzy Ozbourne) that Mickey’s chumminess with Satan never truly ended. It may be alive and well to this very day–and could explain the lack of terrorist threats against any of the Disneyland parks. Just sayin’…
If Mickey secretly is a chicken-sacrificing, head of a goat-wearing soldier of Lucifer, then is it so far-fetched to think that spells have been cast by him for decades? Isn’t it possible that Mickey, in some misguided attempt to bring forth a demon to destroy the world, caused one of his two dogs to become human-like?
Perhaps, Pluto the Pup was never called Rover, at all. Perhaps, Rover was a character unto itself, a loyal companion that inadvertently got too close to its master’s pentagram of doom and transformed into the unnatural abomination we know today as Goofy.
Theory 3: A Sick Joke
Just as Weekly World Newsbrought us the national treasure known as Bat-Boy and Dr. Frankenstein brought us his monster, is it not safe to assume that Disney animators, believing themselves to be God-like, created a new being?
Hybrids are not just a contemporary answer to global warming, but are sometimes a part of our very culture.
So, why would Disney artists be any different? Why wouldn’t they want to showcase the power wielded in those paintbrushes with the creation of something that made no sense… even in its own universe. Thus, Goofy was created in order to force, not only the general public, but, everyone in the Disney universe to question the natural law of things.
This chaos may have even lead to unreported moments of Donald Duck reading Beat poetry at Disneyland’s Carnation Plaza or Minnie Mouse burning her bra on Main Street!
Theory 4: Satirical Reference Lost To The Ages
Public figures have always been the target of satire, especially in cartoons. So, perhaps the answer to Goofy’s existence is in Walt Disney’s sense of lampooning.
In 1929, a tall man with bucked teeth and a yellow hat by the name of Gabriel O’Malley bumped into Walt Disney on the sidewalk of a busy street. The two likable men got to talking and, at the realization they were both Irish, O’Malley mentioned that his family was of the town Freshford. Disney invited O’Malley to invest in his burgeoning animation studio and O’Malley handed over his life savings. Having learned that O’Malley was as illiterate as they come, Disney, instead of a contractual agreement, provided the man with a newspaper clipping. That night, Disney treated his brother Roy, Ub Iwerks and others under his employment to endless rounds of high-quality whiskey, paid for by Gabriel O’Malley Of Freshford or G.O.O.F.
(NOTE: The preceding story would be considered 100% accurate if it wasn’t for the fact that it is entirely made up. Made up or not, though, it could have happened. )
The Goofy and Pluto debate has gone on for decades and will continue on for many more–no matter how many families continue to be split apart in disagreement, no matter how many prisoners this heated topic continues to condemn to death row. I strongly suspect that in 2012, this topic will become a divisive topic in many presidential campaigns.
When that happens, you will have to ask yourself: am I pro-dog or pro-whothehellknows?
*Copyright on this word is pending, Mike Calahan, 2010, so don’t even think about it!