The Enduring Legacy of Disney's Black Millennial Classic 'A Goofy Movie'
At its heart was its hit song "I 2 I" and the Bobby Brown collaboration that almost was.
The 1990s produced a ton of millennial-friendly nostalgic relics, but none encapsulate the decade more than the movies of the Disney Renaissance. A period of time that stretched about ten years, the Disney Renaissance was a golden era of children's films that produced a flawless run of critically acclaimed animated movies like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.
The only thing wrong with the way some people remember the Renaissance is that, in most cases, they only include the ten films that were produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation (now known as Walt Disney Animation Studios). In their oversight, they leave out a few gems like 1995's A Goofy Movie, which is hands down blackest Disney film of that era, as once outlined by the site Black Nerd Problems.
Despite not being accepted by extremely picky Tumblr nerds as a Renaissance film, as it was produced by DisneyToon Studios, A Goofy Movie is largely considered a cult classic among black millennials.
Aesthetically, the cultural references in the film are clear. From the female protagonist being a light skinned girl named Roxanne, to the white boy named Bobby (voiced by Pauly Shore) getting in just as much trouble as Max, but somehow feeling way less worried about his parents finding out. The world this movie called its home definitely felt familiar for young black boys and young black girls. Even the way the characters' clothes were drawn felt undeniably hip-hop. Max's oversized hoody might as well have read "Hilfiger" across the front.
In the opening sequence, our adolescent hero is seen frolicking with bae through a wheat field in an all-white fit, looking like a young Ma$e, rocking what we now know to be a very fuckboyish haircut (akin to that of the dude from the "hurt bae" meme). Anyone who claims Max Goof wasn't an early depiction of #BlackBoyJoy is either a liar or a white person.
Emotionally, the film's plot also felt particular to the African-American experience, with the principal of Max's school calling his father, alleging the teenage boy sent his classmates into a "riotous frenzy" dressed as a "gang member," and advising Goofy to get a handle on the way he raises his son before he ends up "in the electric chair."
Consequently, that silly response tore into an already flimsy relationship between a concerned father and his presumed "at-risk" son. Of the film's storytelling, director Kevin Lima once said "instead of just keeping Goofy one dimensional, as he's been in the past, we wanted to give him an emotional side that would add to the emotional arc. We wanted the audience to see his feelings instead of just his antics."
A Goofy Movie was pretty much August Wilson's Fences, except with talking dogs and a happy ending—an ending marked by Tevin Campbell performing a song in celebration of a father and son finally meeting "eye to eye," voicing a character that was actually created for Bobby Brown.
Like any epic tale, the story of how Disney found itself between Campbell and Brown when considering who would be the sole black actor in their first black film (we can't have it all) has multiple canons and timelines to consider—and they all start roughly around 1989.
With the success of The Little Mermaid that November, the Disney Renaissance officially began late that year. In rapid succession, a crab named Sebastian gave us "Under the Sea," Beauty and the Beast delivered an Oscar-winning song of the same name, Aladdin scooped Princess Jasmine up on a magic carpet and sang "A Whole New World" in what is easily the flyest moment in animated film history, and Elton John along with Tim Rice wrote five songs for The Lion King that will be sung on Broadway until the end of time.
By 1995, the Renaissance was in full swing, and it was pretty much mandatory for the soundtracks to be as good as, if not better than, the movies—which led Disney to the crazy air-humping, pelvis-thrusting world of Bobby Brown.
During the first few years of the Renaissance, Brown was pretty much immune to taking Ls. By the time The Little Mermaid premiered, the child star turned sex symbol was fresh off the 1988 release of his biggest solo hit to date, "My Prerogative." As documented recently in BET's The New Edition Story, in the early 90s, Brown's sophomore album Don't Be Cruel was doing numbers, he embarked on a wildly successful tour with Al B. Sure! and his former N.E bandmates, and he married Whitney Houston. The man was truly living his best life, which included being hired to voice the fictional pop sensation, Powerline, in A Goofy Movie.
In granting Bobby Brown the sound of its music, the most valuable and recoupable asset of their Renaissance era films, Disney reinforced the already sturdy merits of A Goofy Movie as a decidedly black endeavor.
In hindsight, given what we know of him now, choosing Bobby Brown to voice a children's character seems like a flawed decision. However, despite his antics and his troubles and his exploits, Brown had already proved himself a bankable choice for blockbuster jams in 1989, when he topped the charts with "On Our Own" for the Ghostbusters II soundtrack.
At the time, Disney stuck with Brown, hoping to duplicate that type of R&B success. Close to the end of the film's production, however, the troubled star checked himself into The Betty Ford Center for drug and alcohol dependency, and Tevin Campbell was called to replace him as the voice of Powerline—as a result, the universe gifted us Campbell's magnum opus, "I 2 I."
While not much has been said of why Disney chose the now notoriously reclusive Campbell as Brown's replacement, one could imagine a fresh faced teen would be the next logical choice when your original R&B ambassador becomes addicted to cocaine and heroin. Having already sang "Happy Birthday" to Ashley Banks and been introduced to the world by Quincy Jones (also in 1989), Campbell possessed a unique blend of both teenage appeal and R&B sensibilities.
Today, black millennials are lucky Disney didn't panic, and instead decided to stick with a patently black sound despite losing out on Brown—we could have gotten a sugary sweet Madonna song or something at the end of the film had they lost their nerve.
Admittedly, though, it's likely that part of the decision to stick with that black sound for this black movie had to do with how late in the game Disney was in making it when Brown's spot opened up. By the time Campbell laid his vocals, it was clear he was lending his voice to a character drawn in the image of his predecessor.
With his monochromatic space-suit, his asymmetric fade, and his flashy stage show, Powerline was already visually molded after Bobby Brown. As for his voice and his music, however, the character might have actually benefited from the loss. While A Goofy Movie would have been just as black had it closed with a Bobby Brown song instead of a Tevin Campbell song, it probably wouldn't have jammed as hard.
Campbell's two contributions to the film's soundtrack, "Stand Out" and "I 2 I," were both produced, recorded, and mixed by David Z—a.k.a. the guy who engineered Prince's best albums throughout his 80s dominance, including Purple Rain. The connection between David Z and Campbell dates back to Campbell's work on Prince's Graffiti Bridge, having previously been a protégé of the Minneapolis legend around the time Brown was scorching and the Renaissance was starting.
Aside from the production of those two tracks being outside of Brown's lane, Campbell also had a more soulful and soaring singing voice, better equipped to deliver the type of sentiment that comes with a black father and son reconciling their differences while stunting on the TV screen at the same damn time.
An exaggerated image of Bobby Brown's dynamic stage presence and keen knack for grandeur created a character so large and so black only a voice as big as Tevin Campbell's could fill its empty spaces.
The songs that Brown recorded for the film turned out to be a little softer than expected. Allegedly remixed and placed on his critically lamented and notably sensual fourth album Forever, Brown's Disney songs would have been better suited for an adult version of this film, where Max stays in town and kicks it with Roxanne at the house while Goofy goes fishing by himself.
More than 20 years later, both A Goofy Movie and "I 2 I" hold unique places within the Disney canon for black millennials—places that no other Disney films or songs inhabit.
During the years leading up to and immediately after 1995, Mufasa got clapped in the Serengeti during The Lion King, Woke-a-hontas warned us of the dangers of white men, and Mulan confronted gender roles and introduced the world to its first bisexual cartoon character, who also happened to be a person of color—but none of those characters wore the same fresh clothes, or had the same school crushes, or bumped the same black artists as their audience. Other Renaissance-era movies featured songs that were Grammy and Academy Award-winning hits—songs that have been sung in theaters and opera houses all over the world—but none of them feel as good as Powerline's ode to seeing relationship's through. Few things are as authentically black as the inexplicably warm sensation of feeling something as opposed to merely liking or even loving it. That abstract feeling is what connects the black ethos to the idea of "soul," and black kids to otherwise racially ambiguous cartoon characters.
From "Stand Out" to "I 2 I," and every cultural reference in between, it's not a stretch to suggest black millennials saw A Goofy Movie and felt that connection.