If this author had to pick his favorite moment in the history of sports, it would have to be a certain hockey match between the Loose Leafs and the Ant Eaters. Furthermore, given a number of choices on a favorite cartoon from the Golden Age of animation, this is the ultimate contender.
Jack Kinney directed many of Goofy’s cartoons during the ‘40s and into the early ‘50s. He joined the studio on February 9, 1931, animating and working in story before he became a director. After the studio moved from Hyperion Avenue to Burbank, Disney developed an inattention to the short cartoons, more engaged with features and war-related projects. He later stated in an interview about his enjoyment of the character, “The Goof to me, was a nice long, lean character that you could move; you could get poses out of him, crazy poses. I liked his voice, because I thought he was kind of an easygoing guy that you could associate with, as being dumber than yourself.”
Evaluating Kinney’s Goofy cartoons with the fairly amusing Donald Ducks from directors Jack King and Jack Hannah and Charles Nichols’ fatally bland Pluto cartoons, they were undoubtedly stronger. They belied the studio’s gentle approach to comedy, shaping them with the raucous energy implanted in the Warners and MGM cartoons that dominated 1940s animation.
Fred Quimby, producer of MGM’s animation department, wanted to lure Kinney away, but Disney gave Kinney a raise that matched Quimby’s salary offer. The Goofy cartoons he directed during the ‘40s – sometimes known as the “How To” series — generally involved Goofy’s incompetence in accomplishing a particular sport (skiing, boxing, swimming, fishing and golfing, to name a few.) In other cartoons, which profiled team sports such as baseball and football, multitudes of Goofy are portrayed as player and spectator.
With such an aggressive sport like hockey, Hockey Homicide permeates with sheer chaos, which starts as soon as the rival players launch the referee into the scoreboard. What ensues near the end is manic enough for lifted footage of previous Goofy sports cartoons — along with quick cuts of Victory Through Air Power and Pinocchio — to convey the pandemonium. (The climactic free-for-all uses up about four pages of the draft, interestingly.) It is guaranteed to leave viewers as breathless as announcer Doodles Weavers’ final comment by the end. The lack of music, with the brief exception of the ice-scraping gag, especially works to the cartoon’s favor.
The animators, including the effects artists, were finally given screen credit during this period on the short cartoons. However, the artists uncredited for Hockey Homicide include animators Cliff Nordberg, Al Bertino, Les Clark, Ward Kimball, and effects animator Andy Engman (a former East Coast animator for Fleischer and Van Beuren in the early ‘30s). Clark animates only one shot in the cartoon, where the referee nervously drops the puck. Amusingly, the hockey players are named after Disney staffers; the referee is named “Clean Game” Kinney, after Hockey Homicide’s director. Likewise for the star players “Fearless Ferguson” and “Ice-Box Bertino,” named after animators Norm Ferguson and Al Bertino. The diminutive fan that cheers for Riley in scene 68 is admiring a player named after Art Riley, the background artist for this film. If you freeze-frame the program roster shown in scene 13 (and the modifications two scenes later) or listen carefully to the frenetic announcements, you’ll notice more Disney artists’ names inserted into the game.
Milt Kahl’s draftsmanship is highly regarded, but his comedic sensibilities as an animator are often overlooked. The timing/weight as the referee struggles to balance on the ice rink, ultimately landing on the ground a few scenes later, is marvelous. Kahl also handles the running gag involving heated rivalry between Ferguson and Bertino, nose-to-nose and seething with anger, before hitting each other with their sticks. The referee’s authoritative pose — pointing over to the penalty box much like a strict schoolteacher admonishing misbehaving pupils — and the two hockey players facing away from each other really sells the sequence. The ice scraper sequence is amusing, if not for the miscellaneous objects that are found in the slush, among them a cat. (Freeze-frame and you’ll see.)
Besides Kahl, John Sibley also handles some dimensional scenes in Hockey Homicide. Sibley animated at Disney’s his entire career, almost exclusively on Kinney’s cartoons. He started there in early 1937, graduating as an assistant animator by March 1938. In addition to his animation for Disney, Sibley was also a successful magazine cartoonist, often contributing with story artist Virgil “VIP” Parch. His magazine cartoons were submitted to Collier’s, True, and Saturday Evening Post. Sibley’s animation is broadly exaggerated, which certainly added to the humor of the Goofy cartoons yet it seems effortless. For instance, the quick gags of the hockey player scooping up pucks into the goal net (scenes 101 and 102), and another hitting a tower of pucks with the velocity of a machine-gun (sc. 105), are handled beautifully.
Two of Kinney’s animators, Cliff Nordberg and Hal King, contribute great scenes in the cartoon. Nordberg animates scene 14’s two spectators jot down the modifications to the program roster, resulting in multiple hands flurrying around the paper, similar to Dave Tendlar’s “flurry effect” in the Fleischer cartoons of the late ‘30s. He also handles the wonderful cycle of the three Loose Leaf players skating up to the camera (scene 43) and a hilarious scene of two players squashing and disfiguring an opponent with their rumps (scene 67). King’s animation is very loose; it’s plainly evident in scene 47, when the goalie is yanked around and torn from his uniform to retrieve a lost puck, leaving him only in his long johns.
This feature has been wonderful to write for this site, and I’m always eager for the feedback after the weekly column is published. The main purpose, of course, is for readers to gain an appreciation for the studios, the directors, and most importantly, the various animators that have worked on these cartoons. I’m very grateful for the people who have helped make it a success, and I’m hoping that it will expand greatly within the next year.
Thanks a lot, dear readers, and have a Happy New Year!
(Thanks to Michael Barrier, Keith Scott, and Pete Docter for their help.)