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Saturday Matinee

Disney Cartoon #34: "Goofy and Wilbur" (March 17, 1939)
by Albert Gutierrez

I've been rather unfair to Goofy, as I've only now realized that I have yet to discuss any of his Walt-era shorts. Sure, I've mentioned him in his ensemble appearances, like "Mickey's Trailer" and "Ye Olden Days." But I've done shorts focused exclusively on Mickey, Donald, Chip'n'Dale, Humphrey, Silly Symphonies, the one-offs, and other variations thereupon. Yet after 34 weeks, I still haven't covered Goofy. Granted, I haven't done any Oswalds, Alices, or Plutos either, but I will get around to them sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I will rectify my Goofy mistake by covering one of the few Goofy-centric shorts I actually have in my collection: "Goofy and Wilbur." Appropriately, this is also Goofy's first solo short, after pair-ups with Donald and appearances in Mickey cartoons.

Goofy guides his little putt-putt boat into a lake, where a sign clearly says "No Fishin'," a warming blissfully ignored by the absent-minded dog. He pulls out a box and proclaims, "Well, here we are, Wilbur!" and a grasshopper emerges. The grasshopper, Wilbur, heads out onto the lake to serve as bait for the fish, hopping along the surface of the water and guiding fish into Goofy's net. It's a wonderful partnership, and Goofy calls out, "Bring me back a big fat one, Wilbur!" Wilbur does as told, netting Goofy a large fish too big for the net, but still captured nonetheless. Wilbur skates along the water and approaches a fish, who pretends to be asleep. Wilbur attempts to awaken the fish, to no avail. Finally, the fish makes his move, and Wilbur hops quickly towards Goofy and his boat. However, the net is now broken thanks to the big fish, and the "sleeping" fish swallows Wilbur.

Goofy grabs the fish and attempts to speak to Wilbur, who is eventually spit out by the fish. Goofy revives Wilbur by way of smelling salts and advises, "Better watch your step, Wilbur. They're getting wise to you!" Wilbur heads back out into the water, and plays a song for the fish to gather around him. As they all circle around, Wilbur escapes, only to be swallowed by a frog that he didn't anticipate. Goofy cries out in shock and runs after the frog. He attempts to capture it, only for the frog to be swallowed by a crane. The crane flies high up to his perch, with Goofy climbing the tree to capture the crane that swallowed the frog that swallowed Wilbur. However, the crane flies away, leaving Goofy to cry in the now abandoned nest. In the most unlikely birth ever, Goofy's tears land on one of the crane's eggs and who should pop out? Wilbur!

For a first solo outing, Goofy really doesn't do much in the cartoon. Half the cartoon is devoted more to Wilbur, who is one of the most charming minor characters to come from Disney. He certainly could have had success with his own series of shorts, as his diminutive size and mute nature (aside from his violin-sounding legs) would allow for a great deal of physical comedy within the animated world. In addition, there is some really great animation done for the character. The anthropomorphized easily shifts from an "insect" mode into a "human" mode in his movements. Just watch Wilbur jump around the water in one scene, then do a little soft-shoe shuffle at the end. There's a great deal of range to how he could be animated, thus making it all the more unfortunate that this cartoon be his solo appearance in the Disney canon.

Goofy, on the other hand, would go on to greater success. While his initial solo outing is easily one of his weakest, it would pave the way for some trademarks of the character. With his tall and gangly stature, his own movement would become very clunky and uncoordinated. It helps establish him as the forever-clumsy one, something that would become greatly exaggerated in the "How to..." shorts, and especially in "Goof Troop " television series. It's actually the latter that I prefer Goofy in. I grew up with the misadventures of the klutzy father who still managed to keep it all together. Watching his earlier shorts sometimes is jarring, mainly because I didn't see that Goofy as "my" Goofy.

If you're interested in checking out "Goofy and Wilbur," good luck finding one of its three out of print DVDs. Naturally, the short is included in "Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy," originally released in 2002. It's also one of the featured cartoons in the compilation "Classic Cartoon Favorites, Volume Three: Starring Goofy," released in 2005. In addition, the short was offered as a bonus feature in the initial 2006 release of The Fox and the Hound 2, your best bet of the three to find at a reasonable price. That film has re-appeared in a two-movie collection with the first film, on both DVD and Blu-Ray, but no longer includes "Goofy and Wilbur" among its supplements. Honestly, the only "tie" that the short had to The Fox and the Hound 2 was that both featured a cricket and friendship, so its absence isn't missed even if it's still puzzling.


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