Some things are so tragic that they take time to process and recover from before we can discuss what happened, even with family and friends. Time might be able to heal all wounds, but there’s no schedule that shows exactly how long it might take. I respect that.
Content warning, my friends: We’re going to be discussing tragedy and existentially terrifying topics about trauma and loss. But, after nearly three decades, it’s finally time to talk about Goofy’s dead wife and missing family.
Goofy’s tragic backstory
Goofy likely has a dead wife. Yes, that Goofy: Disney’s accident-prone cartoon dog. This may require a bit of an explanation for those of you who don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of classic and ’90s-era cartoons.
In the 1950s, Disney began fleshing out Goofy as a suburban everyman figure in theatrical animated shorts. Goofy wore a suit, worked in an office, and raised a son named Goofy Jr. with his wife, who is always drawn with her back to the camera. Her face is never shown, although she does speak in some of these shorts. The rise of television all but wiped out these cartoons, and the characters mostly dropped out of view by the early ’60s.
But Goofy returned in 1992 with a half-hour television show called Goof Troop, which was broadcast during the Disney Afternoon animation block. The show ran for 78 episodes and was followed by the feature-length film A Goofy Movie, which was released theatrically in 1995, and its sequel, An Extremely Goofy Movie, which received a straight-to-DVD release in 2000.
In Goof Troop and the two Goofy Movies, Goofy is a single father to a son named Max. His wife from the 1950s shorts never appears in the show or in the movies. Max’s mother is never discussed, as far as I’ve found. Goof Troop fans have long speculated about what happened to Mrs. Goofy, but Disney has never provided an official explanation.
Many web sources claim that Goofy told Max that his mother was “up among the stars” during an episode of the show, but this seems to be an urban legend. In fact, Goofy and Max never mention her at all, as far as I can tell. Disney’s Guest Services once even included a statement about Goofy’s wife in the FAQ section of their website. Their official position (since deleted) was that they didn’t know what happened to her, either:
Years later, when the television show “Goof Troop” was being created, Goofy Junior evolved into Max and Mrs. Goofy was no longer on the scene. Because these are fictional characters, they do not have real biographies and we can only go by what appears on the screen. Perhaps someday there will be another movie or television show that will explain who Max’s mother is and where “Mrs. Goofy” went, but until that time, there is no definitive answer. You can find lots more information about all of your favorite Disney characters in our online Disney Archives.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that she has passed on. There is nothing in Goof Troop to indicate that Max has a living mother. He never goes to visit her or talks to her on the phone. Goofy doesn’t share custody of his son with anyone else.
Perhaps the trauma of whatever happened to her is so terrible that Goofy can’t bear to talk about it, but there’s no indication that Max has a mother whom either of them have contacted at any point in the show’s run.
A 90s Disney exec reclines with his feet on the conference table. He takes a few puffs from his cigar.— Kibblesmith ☃️ (@kibblesmith) February 25, 2017
"Goofy should have a dead wife."
The only alternative explanation for the absence of Goofy’s wife comes from the 1953 short Father’s Day Off, in which Goofy takes the day off from the office to help out with the housework while his wife is away. At one point in this short, Goofy answers the door, and the milkman hands Goofy two bottles of milk and kisses Goofy on the mouth. Goofy turns to the camera and says, “Friendly cus, ain’t he?”
The implication is that the milkman kissed Goofy because he expected Goofy’s wife to answer the door, as she typically would have when Goofy was working in the office. Perhaps Mrs. Goofy’s apparent infidelity could explain her absence from Goof Troop, but it doesn’t explain why Mrs. Goof is not in contact with Max, or why Goofy is the sole custodial parent, since, if this theory is correct, Max may not even be his biological son.
The simplest answer is still the most tragic: Logic inevitably leads us to conclude that she is probably dead, although we can only hope that Mr. and Mrs. Goofy were first able to work through their intimacy issues in the wake of her infidelity.
But the darkness, sadly enough, doesn’t end there.
Also, Goofy’s whole family is probably dead
Goof Troop seems to imply that Goofy’s entire immediate family is also dead. In A Goofy Movie, Goofy becomes concerned about Max’s future after Max gets in trouble at school. Goofy’s solution is to take Max on the same character-building fishing trip that his father took him on when he was a boy.
Goofy shows Max a map annotated by his father, and reminisces about how his dad taught him to open a soup can using his buck teeth. The two elder Goofs seemingly had a close relationship, and Goofy tries to connect with Max in the same way. Even if Goofy’s father is gone, it’s clearly important to Goofy that Max know who his grandfather was.
However, Goofy’s father does not appear in the movie, and Goofy is never shown speaking to his parents in Goof Troop or the Goofy movies. Spoonerville, where Goofy and Max live in Goof Troop, is Goofy’s hometown, but Goofy does not seem to have any other family living there.
Goofy may also have a dead brother or sister. In one episode of Goof Troop, Max’s cousin Debbie comes to visit. She calls Goofy “Uncle Goofy,” which suggests she is Max’s first cousin and therefore the daughter of Goofy’s sibling. But Debbie’s parents never appear in any episode. In an episode in which Goofy has a family reunion, the only attendees are his aunt, his uncle, his great-uncle, and a cousin.
Debbie doesn’t show up for that reunion, so it’s always possible that there are other Goofs who, like her, did not attend. But considering that Goof Troop is a show about the relationships between parents and children, it’s certainly noteworthy that we never see Goofy’s parents.
So they’re probably dead, too.
The fact that Goofy’s parents, siblings, and wife are never depicted and never directly mentioned — other than a few references to Goofy’s father — is especially glaring, since several Goof Troop episodes involve Goofy showing Max his family photo albums, and telling the stories of his ancestors like Sherlock Goof, Mopalong Goofy, and Caveman Goof. Why wouldn’t he bring up his parents in that situation, or Max’s mother? Why wouldn’t Max ask?
Goofy is clearly dealing with a significant amount of trauma that he has issues confronting directly, and perhaps Max is being understanding of Goofy’s challenges.
How could this have happened?
Directors were once allowed to do some pretty wild things with the classic Disney characters. One 1947 Donald Duck cartoon showed Donald developing a magnificent singing voice and dumping Daisy to become a famous singer. Daisy then obsessively stalks Donald and threatens to kill herself.
That one, as you might imagine, is not in circulation on the Disney Channel these days.
Disney had become an empire of media properties and theme parks by the 1990s, and had grown much more conservative with its mascot characters, who by this time were extremely valuable franchise properties. Disney famously withheld Donald Duck from the original DuckTales series out of fear of overexposing the character. It’s very possible that the higher-ups nixed the idea of depicting Goofy’s wife, whose face had never been shown in any Disney animation.
It’s also possible that the show’s writers were interested in the relationship between Goofy and Max, but weren’t interested in exploring the dynamic between Goofy and his wife or between Max and his mother, so they just wrote her out of the show. That created a larger problem, however, as the show often dealt with familial issues, and the lack of discussion about Max’s mother became harder and harder to ignore.
The decision to leave these characters out of the show seems to have completely backfired. The unremarked-upon absence of Goofy’s wife and family implies a backstory for Goofy that is much darker and perhaps less appropriate for the character than almost any other story Goof Troop’s writers could have come up with. You can’t hint at something so painful that no other character is willing to even bring it up, and then expect the audience to just let it go.
Once you think about this mystery, in fact, you almost can’t stop thinking about it and viewing the show through the lens of tragedy.
Maybe Goofy cared for his wife through a long, wasting illness, and held her hand, weeping as she drifted away. Can you imagine Goofy angrily demanding that his pastor tell him what kind of God would allow something like this to happen? Can you imagine him sitting in his armchair, in a darkened room, with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and their wedding album in the other? Can you imagine him vowing to hold it together for Max, and deciding he can manage, as long as he never, ever talks about it? Can you imagine him taking down all the family photos and locking them away, because he can’t bear to look at them?
Sure, Goof Troop viewers can probably enjoy the show without thinking too much about the Goofs who must have existed but no longer seem to. But the implied tragedies of Goofy’s past are an unavoidable subtext of the Goofy Movies, which focus on Max growing up and pulling away as Goofy, who has nothing and no one else of note in his life, clings desperately to his son.
This is especially evident in An Extremely Goofy Movie, the relatively obscure and extremely weird straight-to-DVD sequel to the better-known A Goofy Movie.
Buckle up, this subtext is about to become straight up text.
Gawrsh, he’s clinically depressed!
In An Extremely Goofy Movie, Max, who was a little boy in Goof Troop and a high school student in the previous film, is going away to college. This throws Goofy into a crisis. Goofy trudges through his empty house after Max leaves at the beginning of the movie, goes into Max’s empty bedroom, and clutches Max’s teddy bear; the scene fades to black as Goofy begins to weep. The scene is 95 seconds long, and is played completely straight. There are no laughs to be found anywhere.
I know I keep saying this, but: This is Goofy we’re talking about here.
Goofy falls into a depression that indirectly causes a workplace accident. He is fired as a result. Then, Goofy goes to the unemployment office and learns that he is unemployable because he never graduated from college.
Goofy goes to college to undergo humiliating job retraining in his middle age, and there he finds Max, who is not pleased to see his dad. Max just wants to listen to ska music, wear baggy pants, creep on girls, and practice skateboarding for the College X-Games, an embarrassing 1990s sporting event that Max plans to compete in with his equally embarrassing friend Bobby Zimuruski, who is pretty much Poochie as played by Pauly Shore.
Goofy, overjoyed to be near his son again, recovers a bit and even gets a date with the college librarian. But Max is frustrated because he is less popular and worse at skateboarding than his father, so he tells Goofy off. This crushes Goofy; Max is everything to him. Goofy falls back into depression, stands up his new girlfriend and fails an important exam.
It’s a Disney movie, so Goofy and Max eventually reconcile, but this is still an astonishingly weird story. An Extremely Goofy Movie came out in 2000, eight years after the original run of Goof Troop. A lot of people were on the internet in 2000; they had blogs and message boards. The writers of this movie must have been aware of the fan speculation about Goofy’s dead wife, and it’s hard not to see the character’s implied-but-never-addressed history of loss and tragedy underlying his breakdown after Max goes to college.
The decision to tell a story about a depressed, grieving Goofy cannot have been unintentional. The movie’s writers could have done just about anything with this story, and the decision that the creative team landed on involves Goofy causing a dangerous workplace situation due to his inability to talk about his feelings of abandonment.
I want to listen to an interview of the writer who decided to give the classic disney character goofy a dead wife— Matt Grippi (@MattGrippi) September 6, 2018
Goofy’s voice actor, Bill Farmer, was nominated for an Annie Award for his vocal performance in An Extremely Goofy Movie, and it’s a performance deserving of recognition. Farmer manages to weep convincingly, conveying the grief of a family man who has lost his family, alone in an empty house with nothing but the ghosts of his past to keep him company. But still in character.
What does this mean?
It seems that making a show for children starring a beloved franchise character, and working within Disney’s constraints, unintentionally created a fiction that implies the character is a widower and that his entire family is probably dead.
Or maybe the fan theories are true and this was the plan all along: Goofy has canonically lived a life of tragedy, regret, and pain.
But what can we do with this information? Is there a lesson to derive from Goofy’s past?
Probably not. However, the Goofy movies are very weird relics of semi-forgotten 1990s pop culture, and are worth checking out. If Goofy has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes you just need a good cry to let it all out. If you’re not honest about your own past, and you don’t seek out the help necessary to discuss where you are in life and where you come from, everyone around you may begin to imagine all sorts of strange reasons for your behavior.
Goofy needs help to process his trauma and, after getting that help, one day, he may finally be ready to speak. Maybe not to his fans, but at least to his son. We may not be owed the full story, but Max deserves to hear what happened from his father before it’s too late.