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Saturday Matinee

Disney Cartoon #4: "Football Now and Then" (October 2, 1953)

by Albert Gutierrez

The Super Bowl is literally just around the corner.  I can't wait to watch all the commercials, and look forward for the new episode of "Glee" that will follow.  I'm sure I'll find something to do while the game is on. To be honest, until I looked it up five minutes ago, I didn't even know who was playing who (Green Bay Packers versus Pittsburgh Steelers). I guess that shows how much I know and enjoy about football. Actually, most of what I know and enjoy of the sport comes more from movies rather than the actual game. And some of my favorite ones are made by Disney.  A few live-action features was about the sport, more recent ones being "Remember the Titans" and "Invincible".  In addition, there were two cartoons exclusively about the sport. 1944's "How to Play Football" (featuring two teams comprised of what must be Goofy clones), as well as the subject of this week's Saturday Matinee: 1953's "Football Now and Then".

The short begins with a grandfather and his grandson, both in a friendly debate about who has a better football team.  Grandpa believes that the "Bygones" of his day is the greatest team, while Junior thinks that the "Present State" is the greatest.  In order to determine the winner, Grandpa turns on the television, where we see a football game between the Bygones and Present State.  Immediately, the differences between turn-of-the-century football and 1953 football is apparent.  The Bygones are all slim and lanky, relaxed men when off the field and strictly business when on the field.  The Present State come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all over-padded and over-stocked, as the coach eventually sends Team 65 out onto the field.  65!

In addition to the teams, there's quite a difference in the coaching and the fans.  Bygone fans are few and far between, and treat the event as a lark in the park (with Andrew! hehehe).  They are prim and proper and see the game as jolly good fun.  However, the raging crowd that supports the Present State cannot be distinguished at all within the crowd, it's a floating mass of fans who view the game as a matter of life and death.  The coaches also reflect the fans.  Bygone coach is supportive and calm, while Present State coach is hyperactive and over-excited.  In the end, despite a few humorous riffs on modern and past-day plays, the game ends tied.  While it is meant to signify that both teams have their own strengths for their time, the short goes a little further for the greatest gag, which I won't spoil here.

I have to be honest, I initially didn't intend to write about "Football Now and Then".  It was a decision made shortly after I finished writing an article for the short I was already going to cover, as I realized it would allow this week's Saturday Matinee tie in with the upcoming Super Bowl.  In fact, my first time watching "Football Now and Then" was only a few months ago when I finally acquired "Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities" on DVD.  I didn't care much for it then, but revisiting it now, it's quite interesting to really see how far the sport has come.  And there are even some amusing gags that I missed the first time around, including such gags like a "hot number" play, the significance of commercial interruptions at the most inopportune times, and how disposable most football players come across in the short.

"Football Now and Then" probably will appeal most to those who are fans of the game.  It's a great and comical comparison of how the sport evolved, as well as a harmless seven minutes of Disney fun.  I would have loved if Disney made other "Now and Then" shorts, it could have been a great series, although there is the potential that time would date them within even a decade.  "Football Now and Then" doesn't really feel dated, actually.  Aside from the bizarre Whirling Dervish Washer guy, everything feels like it could still take place today.  Perhaps it's a sign of how the game has largely stayed the same since the 1950s?  The only difference, of course, is a few extra zeroes attached to a player's salary. ;-)   


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