BAXTER'S BREAKDOWNS
December 30, 2015 posted by

Disney’s “Hockey Homicide” (1945)

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.

hockey-posterJack 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.

goofy3The 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.)

A Milt Kahl animation drawing from "Hockey Homicide"

A Milt Kahl animation drawing from “Hockey Homicide”

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.

tumblr_mutzd2gG1f1s92nono1_400Two 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!

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(Thanks to Michael Barrier, Keith Scott, and Pete Docter for their help.)

18 Comments

  • This cartoon works on so many levels–parodying the hysteria of fans, the intensity of rivalry between teams, the cold temperature of the ice rink, the dangers of injury, and ultimately the total breaking of the rules as hundreds of hockey pucks are suddenly made available, making it possible for each team to rack up zillions of points all at once. This isn’t, as is the case with so many cartoons, a series of related gags–but a carefully plotted sequence of events that has a definite structure to it. Even the re-use of essentially the same footage for the Bertino/Ferguson running gag is meticulously placed so that the gag builds through repetition. This is one of the most hysterically funny of the Goofy shorts and it remains relevant today, maybe even more so than when originally produced.

    Thanks for this detailed look at a cartoon classic. And likewise Happy New Year!

  • This was a fascinating read. All this time I thought the “Hurray for Riley” Goof was referring to Riley Thompson, the erstwhile director of the Mickey Mouse series, and the other spectator’s angry shouts some sort of ironic reference to the the reception Thompson’s Mickey shorts received.

  • Kinney’s autobiography is a hoot, and a lot of fun to read. One thing that jumps out is how much fun Kinney had as an athlete, and I think that coloured this cartoon pretty heavily. I would agree that this is one of the best Disney cartoons of its era.

  • This, along with “Motor Mania” and “No Smoking”, are two of Goofy’s finest shorts and gave Looney Tunes some healthy competition.

  • Always liked the description to scene 117: …”fingers shoved into spectators eyes,stooge fashion”…..
    When working at Disney’s in the early 1980’s it was a much more relaxed atmosphere than today. You could walk right into the Morgue where all the animation material was stored and archived and check out anything you wanted—not copies, the real thing.
    HOCKEY HOMICIDE was one of the first cartoon materials I checked out, original animation drawings, entire scenes to, flip and study and the actual breakdown you have posted here. It was a great experience, not only to work but so much to learn from the studios animation history developing good drawing skills making us better artists.

    http://www.patcartoons.blogspot.com/

  • One of my favorite Disney shorts. Any chance you have the draft for Duck Pimples?

    • Mark —
      DUCK PIMPLES is one of my most-wanted drafts to use on this feature. Mike Barrier supplied the draft for this cartoon, and I’m really hoping he DOES have the draft for DUCK PIMPLES (it’s my favorite Donald Duck.)

  • You can make a case that Hollywood cartoons were never more frantic than they were in the 1945-48 period, and this is one of the most wonderfully frantic of all of them. The only disappointment is in seeing how well the Disney crew could do manic Warners-MGM style animation and knowing that they would continue to restrain themselves for the most part in the years to follow, in order to fit Walt’s desires for what a cartoon short should be (Kinney seemed to gain some freedom at this time, thanks to the boss’ preoccupation with things like his trips to South America, while Jack Hannah would finally cut loose with his Donald Duck/Humphrey Bear cartoons almost a decade later, when Walt was off building Disneyland).

    • Yeah, I think the WB/Avery influence in Disney cartoons in part owed a lot to Walt’s more scarce presence at the studio during the war years and to reign in the increasing anarchy of some of these shorts. However, the Kinney shorts still had their own deviant style even up to the 50s.

  • Thanks Devon, always look forward to Breakdowns.

    Not only is it important documentation, but it’s a most enjoyable watch.

    I’m a Warner guy all the way, but HH easily stands alongside WB’s best.

  • All I can say is that I do dimly recall this cartoon, having seen it in some form on one of the Disney TV shows, but it certainly did give Tex Avery a run for his money…or at least showed us that Avery’s manic energy was influencing even the animation at the often cherished Disney Studios. Yes, you could put this in an all-sports fest of great cartoons which would obviously include such toons as “SCREWBALL FOOTBALL” and perhaps even “CHUMPED CHAMP”. I only wish that MGM had done some sort of Hockey-related toton, even if it turned out to be TOM AND JERRY. This is a great one.SREWBALL

  • I’m wondering why this cartoon was left out in “The 50 Greatest Cartoons Book”. It’s not even in the runners’ up list at the end of the book.

    Hopefully, if Disney does a 100 best animated shorts book (Pixar not included just so it can be fair), this short gets automatically included.

  • I never knew Kimball and Clark worked on this cartoon. Looking at it now, the scenes with the ref in suit of armor certainly have Ward’s flair for screwball action. Along with Kahl and the borrowed clip of Reitherman’s Monstro, that’s four of the Nine Old Men on one short!

  • I would bet this was screened for “inspiration” during production of the soccer game sequence from Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

  • Was “BEE SELCK” a Woman?

    I ask because….come the hell on, a DUDE was named “BEE”? SERIOUSLY?

    • Bee Selck was, indeed, a woman (Her name was Beulah May “Bee” Selck.)

  • Hockey Homicide is truly one of the great Goofy sports cartoons ((Along with How To Play Football and The Olympic Games)) which include a pre Zamboni ice smoother cleaning off the ice of garbage and the poor ref! And note several scenes from Victory Thru Air Power were used including a brief cameo of Monstro the Whale from Pinocchio.

  • Thanks for your article, Devon! This one remains my favorite Disney cartoon ever; as a lifelong hockey fan and goalie, it’s as funny in my 40’s as it was as a youngster.
    Just wondered if anyone else glimpsed Felix the Cat being shoveled up among the rubbish by the pre-Zamboni rink cleaner at the intermission?

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