The Disney character Goofy has had an unconventional rise to fame. Starting out as a side character laughing from the audience in a cartoon where Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar are performing on stage, his roles got bigger and eventually he was paired with Mickey and Donald as their clumsy and slow-witted friend. Goofy became popular in those cartoons, which encouraged Walt Disney to make him the star of his own film series. Ever since then, Goofy has become a star of comics, feature films, television and theme parks beloved the world over.
Goofy started out as a character originally named Dippy Dawg, and this version of the character was created primarily by Walt Disney, director Wilfred Jackson and voice actor Pinto Colvig.
Jacksonville, Oregon native Pinto Colvig had many skills as a musician, a cartoonist, a circus clown and a vaudeville performer who did “chalk talks” on stage before working on silent films with comedy legend Mack Sennett of Keystone fame and animating for various cartoon studios, working under such people as future Woody Woodpecker creator Walter Lantz. Colvig signed a contract with Disney in 1930 as a writer and a sound effect guy who provided vocal effects for Disney’s films, including Pluto’s barks and eventually Dippy Dawg’s laugh in his debut film Mickey’s Revue (1932). Colvig based Goofy’s voice on actual folks he knew in Jacksonville, and Disney’s animators based their animation of Goofy on Colvig’s own mannerisms, some of which could be seen on stage when you watched Colvig perform similarly goofy characters in vaudeville. Colvig would end up voicing the character for decades, plus he would also voice Practical Pig from Three Little Pigs, the grasshopper from The Grasshopper and the Ants, Grumpy and Sleepy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Aracuan Bird from The Three Caballeros and Melody Time, and during a stint at Fleischer Studios, Popeye’s rival Bluto and Lilliputian town crier Gabby from Gulliver’s Travels (with Danny Webb replacing Colvig as the voice of Goofy during this period), as well as Bozo the Clown across records and television beginning in 1946 and continuing into the 1950s.
Following Colvig’s death in 1967, Goofy would be voiced by Hal Smith (1967-83), Tony Pope (1979-88) and Will Ryan (1986-88) before Disney finally landed on Bill Farmer who has been voicing the character since 1987. He started out imitating Colvig but eventually settled into the voice of Goofy that most people are familiar with.
Dippy Dawg started out as an old bearded yokel eating peanuts and annoying audience members with his laugh, but he was reimagined as a younger guy in The Whoopee Party (1932) and after being a side character in some films eventually got paired regularly with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, beginning in 1935 with Mickey’s Service Station. By the end of the thirties, Dippy’s name was changed to Goofy, just in time for his first starring role in Goofy and Wilbur (1939).
Art Babbitt (the animator who brought Snow White’s Evil Queen and Geppetto the puppetmaker to life) is credited for defining Goofy’s personality and body language and shaping him into the Goofy we know today. Babbitt himself described Goofy as optimistic, gullible, half-witted, good-natured, a good samaritan and a hick, and these traits have been consistent for the character to this day.
Other defining traits that have been consistent are his laugh (“A-hyuck!”), his way of saying “gosh” (“Gawrsh”) and his signature yell known as the Goofy holler (“Yahhh-hoo-hoo-hooeyyy!”) which will be familiar to every Disney fan. That holler was first heard in the 1941 Goofy short The Art of Skiing and was first performed by yodeller Hannès Schroll. Bill Farmer often performs his own version of the yell nowadays, but the classic Goofy holler is occasionally heard in goofy situations from various Disney movies in which Goofy does not appear, including Cinderella, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Rescuers, Pete’s Dragon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Home on the Range.
Goofy cartoons, many of which were directed by Jack Kinney, were consistently Disney’s funniest short films in the forties and fifties. Goofy was often featured in a series of “How to ..” cartoons where you were taught by an offscreen narrator how to do such things as ride a horse, play baseball or fish (and simultaneously shown how NOT to do these things by Goofy). By the fifties, Goofy was transformed into an everyman named George Geef with a wife and son named George Junior, under the suggestion of Walt Disney who wanted the character to be more relatable to suburban viewers. Two of Goofy’s short films, How to Play Football (1944) and Aquamania (1961), were nominated for Oscars. In this period, Goofy also appeared in the Disney features The Reluctant Dragon (1941), Saludos Amigos (1942) and Fun and Fancy Free (1947).
After the sixties, Goofy did not make many appearances on screen until 1983 with Mickey’s Christmas Carol where he played Jacob Marley. This was followed by a more prominent role in the 1987 television special Sport Goofy in Soccermania, a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), a heroic role in The Prince and the Pauper (1990) and finally his own television series Goof Troop (1992) which aired as part of the Disney Afternoon programming block and featured Goofy as a single father raising his son Max (making his screen debut). The popularity of that series led to the theatrically released feature film A Goofy Movie (1995) in which Goofy and Max go on a cross-country road trip, and its straight-to-video sequel An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000) in which Max goes to college. Goofy and Max also appear together in Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999) and Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas (2004).
Despite Goofy’s modern role as a dad, he simultaneously maintained his classic hick persona and remained a common sidekick of Mickey and Donald regularly in the TV series Mickey Mouse Works (2000) and House of Mouse (2001-03), the preschool series Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (2006-16), Mickey Mouse Mixed-up Adventures (2017-21) and Mickey Mouse Funhouse (2021-present), and Paul Rudish’s Mickey Mouse (2013-19) and its Disney+ continuation The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse (2020-present), as well as the 2004 feature film Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers and Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts video game series in which Goofy is one of the main characters serving as the royal captain of the guards at Disney Castle.
Disney also briefly revived the “How to…” series in 2007 with the theatrical release of the Goofy cartoon How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, which played in front of National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and more shorts were released on Disney+ in 2021. Further proof that Goofy’s appeal is timeless. You can put him in a number of situations and it will usually work because the character is likable no matter where he is. I don’t know if it’s because he’s relatable or if it’s because people love to laugh at him, but speaking for myself, it’s all about his personality. The way Goofy will think hard about something and still find a way to get it wrong would normally be frustrating, but it’s his endless optimism in the face of struggle that is both hilarious and inspirational. I often relate to Goofy because I can be dense, gullible, clumsy and absolutely idiotic in my weakest moments too. Plus I am the least athletic person in the world, and I am convinced that is why I find the “How to…” series so funny.