Sport Goofy in Soccermania (1987)

(Author’s note: I falsely claim that Alan Young didn’t start doing Scrooge’s voice until DuckTales‘ premiere. This is demonstrably false. Young began his career on a record in 1974 as the crotchety duck and, more famously, in 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol. In the words of the immortal bard: “Thy bad”.)

Storyman Vance DeBar “Pinto” Colvig was a major asset to the Disney studio since the days of Oswald. In addition to his work writing and drawing at the studio, Colvig would provide voice overs for numerous characters. Pluto’s barks, pants and howls were done by him. Later, he’d provide the gravelly tones of the Practical Pig in 1933’s The Three Little Pigs. His most enduring work was in 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as both Sleepy and Grumpy. But to Disney fans, Pinto will always be best and forever known as the first voice of Goofy.

From 1932 to 1938, Pinto provided Goofy’s signature chuckles and chortles, making him a standout character in the Disney canon. But in 1939, Pinto left the studio to work for Max Fleischer and MGM (he also voiced a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz) before returning to Disney in 1940. During his absence, the story department struggled to find a vehicle for the character that wouldn’t require him to speak. The answer came in the form of the ever-beloved “How to” shorts where Goofy would clumsily bungle through the instructions of a stentorian narrator on how to fish, ski, golf, or swim. And in later cartoons, the whole world would be a bunch of Goofys, taking on hockey, basketball, tennis, and baseball.

Sometime in the eighties, when physical exercise was suddenly popular thanks to icons like Jane Fonda, Jake Steinfeld, Richard Simmons, and Denise Austin, Disney tried to cash in. It started with a 1982 record called Mousercise, then a subsequent TV series. Another method the company utilized in trying to get kids exercising was Goofy’s history of being a sports star. And they really tried hard. A record called Splashdance in 1983 gave us the anthem “You can Always be Number One”, a song about Goofy’s stick-to-itiveness. From 1989 to 2007, the Wonders of Life pavilion at Epcot featured a side attraction called Goofy About Health, which used old Goofy cartoon clips to educate patrons about healthy living. And in 1987, four months before DuckTales officially premiered to American audiences, Goofy appeared on NBC alongside Scrooge McDuck, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and the Beagle Boys in this one-shot special, Sport Goofy in Soccermania.

Strike some sweet soccer scores and see some silly celluloid, my certified cinemaniacs!

The plot: Donald’s nephews tap their great Uncle Scrooge for $1.49 for a trophy for the Duckburg Soccer Tournament. Not wanting to spend the money, Scrooge digs up an old relic he believes to be worthless. But the curator of the Duckburg museum appraises the trophy as being worth either over a million or just “millions” (the special remains unclear on that.). Desperate to get it back, Scrooge has no choice but to sponsor the only team left: a crew of inept losers who are really bad at soccer. His only hope comes in the form of a sports equipment store employee, Sport Goofy (And yes, they call him that all throughout the cartoon), whose physical prowess and skill are second to none.

However, the local crime syndicate, the Beagle Boys, decide to throw their hat into the ring, and hope to win the trophy for themselves, too. But because there’s no honor among thieves, their strategy is reduced to cheating, worrying Scrooge about losing the trophy.

How’s the writing?: Before I say anything, I need to point out the two writers of the special: Tad Stones and Joe Ranft. Stones would later write for DuckTales, but he’s better credited for creating Darkwing Duck and Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers. Ranft would write for The Brave Little Toaster, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, but later join up with Pixar and be a prominent writer for Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Cars. Both men are worthy of all the praise they get. So I feel a trifle unqualified to snark on their early work.

But that all being said, it’s a damn fine piece of early work.

It’s your typical underdog story, where there are definitive bad guys, a curmudgeon who learns a lesson, a team of misfits who can’t play, and a good-spirited player whose attitude permeates the negativity. But you give it slack because you know these characters and they’re written perfectly in character. The story flows naturally, and moves at a great pace, never feeling too slow or too frenetic.

The jokes are kind of unique. I can’t say I laughed out loud at any point, but it’s the kind of humor I’d see on cartoons in this time period. None of them are bad, but I really had to regress 25+ years to really appreciate them. Nowadays you have to be clever, but in the eighties, if Goofy’s simple questions are met with a single synchronized blink from a crew of dumbfounded animals, that was sure to get a good chortle. No strike against it, just a realization that I’m older than I’d like to be.

Does it give the feels?: This really isn’t a special made with emotional depth. Scrooge’s panic and the Beagle Boys’ underhanded tricks are enough to keep you siding with the team you’re supposed to root for. Plus, it’s the team that has Goofy and the underage triplets, so, who you going to side with?

The only moment where things get somber is when Scrooge cries in outrage about possibly losing the trophy. At a point where he should have been worried about Goofy being held hostage, he instead makes it clear he’s more concerned about the trophy, and one of the nephews (They aren’t color-coded here) calls him out on it, giving him a second or two of self-reflection.

Otherwise, Goofy’s naïveté keeps you focused on the important aspect of the game, allowing you to empathize with him. I mean…it’s Goofy.

Who makes it worth it?: Speaking of Goofy, he sells the humor and emotional moments best.

Goofy has always been “a composite of an everlasting optimist, a gullible Good Samaritan, a halfwit, a shiftless, good-natured hick.”, according to animator Art Babbit. Here, Goofy continues being a gentle, kind-hearted simpleton, but the difference here is that A.) he’s not clumsy, but rather super agile and athletic, and B.) his trademark simple-mindedness is exchanged with naïveté. When Scrooge tries to explain that the Beagle Boys will cheat, not only does Goofy not know what “don’t play fair” means, but he doesn’t buy that they’ll cheat simply because it’s against the rules. Even when he’s tied up in the Beagle Boys’ hideout, he remains startlingly upbeat, polite, even. Even if you’re facepalming at this, it’s kind of endearing.

Best quality provided: The animation here is some of the best cartoon animation I’ve ever seen. The characters have weight, depth, and are highly emotive without looking too crazy. The timing for these jokes are spot on. The character models are on point. A+.

What could have been improved: Given the tight story, anything else would have bloated the special into being clumsy or unwieldy. But one of the few things that’ll make the average viewer confused is the voice acting of Goofy and Scrooge. We’re all familiar with Bill Farmer’s voice as Goofy (who began it earlier that year in a Disney Channel special called Disney’s DTV Doggone Valentine), but here it’s provided by Tony Pope. Pope did Goofy’s voice in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and specializes in doing english dubs for anime. It’s simply not one is used to, but it’s far from bad.

This was the second time Scrooge has appeared in a cartoon after 1967’s Scrooge McDuck and Money, where he was voiced by Droopy’s Bill Thompson. Here, he’s voiced by Will Ryan, who’s been doing voices for Willy the Giant in Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the seahorse in The Little Mermaid. We wouldn’t hear Alan Young’s famous burr until September of that year, so Ryan’s Scrooge decidedly feels much less authentic. Oh well, at least we get to hear Russi Taylor beginning her career as Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

The only other odd thing worth mentioning is the lack of characterization in some parts. Scrooge’s team, the Greenbacks, are a motley crew of various animals including an elephant, a kangaroo, a seal, a hippo, a goat, an ostrich, and a leopard, like leftover remnants of the soccer team from Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Not a single one gets a name or even a line. I would have loved to see some uniqueness among them, but given the story is and should be focused on Goofy and Scrooge, there’s no need. Similarly, the Beagle Boys are all clones of each other in an indiscernible amount. We wouldn’t get Burger, Big Time, Bouncer, or Baggy Beagle until DuckTales premiered later in September. But in terms of this story, where the focus is solidly on Goofy, this isn’t that big a deal, really.

Verdict: This special is genuine fun. There’s not much actual soccer playing or anything truly nostalgic (granted, everyone’s reading newspapers regularly), but the animation is top notch, the story is fun and action-packed, the script is genuinely entertaining, and it features characters we love to watch. Best to think of this as a prototype to the 1987 DuckTales. I give it eight relics from the Heebyjeebies out of ten.

Are ya ready for some futbol!?

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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