Goofy and Freewayphobia

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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Growing up in the Los Angeles area, I was used to traffic and the fact that at certain times of the day the freeways were pretty much parking lots rather than a convenient method of travel. Moving to Orlando in 1995, I discovered that few things were more dangerous than tourists behind the wheel of a car in an unfamiliar environment.

I saw drivers drift across four lanes without signaling and then sometimes drift back. I saw drivers take an exit ramp and then back up when they realized they had made a mistake. I saw drivers behave as if they had never seen rain before.

Granted, I had never experienced the phenomenon of "black ice" before and realized that signage in Orlando was poor, at best. Twice, I missed the final off ramp onto Walt Disney property and ended up driving 20 minutes into Haines City before I could turn around. I learned to never do that again.

Walt Disney preferred to drive his own car (usually a convertible) and did not have a regular chauffeur.

Disney Legend Bob Gurr, who joined Disney to work on Disneyland, told me, "When I knew him, Walt had a '50 Cadillac convertible, then a Mercedes Benz 230 SL. He liked convertibles."

Here's a cute story about that Mercedes, which was the last car Walt owned.

Walt recalled: "One day I was driving home and as I was waiting at a stop signal, I looked in a showroom and saw a beautiful Mercedes Benz coupe. 'Gee, I wish I could afford that' I said to myself and then I drove on. I had gone a couple of blocks when I said, 'But I can!' so I turned right around and went back and bought it."

Walt wrote to his sister Ruth on December 1, 1964: "I bought myself a jazzy little sports car this year. A Mercedes 230 SL. That probably won't mean much to you. Anyway, it's a car for the man who thinks young and I am just the guy for it. I thought for a while I was going to have to fight Sharon [his youngest daughter] for possession of it. I loaned it to her one week while we were away and she threatened to steal it. It's a little beauty and almost as good as a blonde on each arm for getting a little envy from my fellow men."

The two seat sports car cost $11,000, which was a lot of money in those days for a car. Perhaps the specter of his thrifty father haunted him because Walt felt guilty about the extravagance, even though he could well afford it. So he rented the car to the Disney Studios at a rate of $100 a day for the movie That Darn Cat! (1965) and it is driven by Roddy McDowell's character

During my own harrowing experiences on the highways, I kept remembering some cartoons featuring Goofy as a driver that were shown at school in driver's education class. It was a great treat to see a Disney color cartoon at school but just like Donald in Mathmagic Land, another theatrical short shown at school, these cartoons contained valuable information.

However, it was definitely a goofy mystery for many years why Goofy ended up in three theatrical cartoons helping audiences to be better drivers.

After finally canceling the Goofy theatrical cartoons in 1953, nearly a decade later, Walt approved two new Goofy cartoons that were both released to theaters in 1965: Freeway Phobia and Goofy's Freeway Troubles. Despite the official cancellation of the series, Goofy did appear in another cartoon short in the gap between 1953-1965, Aquamania (1961).

Even more curious was the running time of each of the Freeway cartoons that was roughly double the length of a regular seven-minute theatrical cartoon. These films were the last theatrical appearance of Goofy for nearly two decades until the release of Mickey's Christmas Carol in 1983.

In June 1950, the Disney Company released the seven minute Goofy short Motor Mania. This wonderful cartoon directed by Jack Kinney shows Goofy as the gentle "Mr. Walker" when he is a pedestrian but once he gets behind the wheel of an automobile, he transforms into the manic "Mr. Wheeler".

It was considered to be part of the "How To…" series featuring Goofy where the character demonstrates all the wrong ways to do things from playing a sport to dancing or even sleeping. In fact, the narration was done by John McLeish who had notably served a similar function in those "How To…"cartoons.

The cartoon shows how the pleasant and good-natured family man "Mr. Walker," undergoes a change in personality—much like the fabled Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—to the belligerent "Mr. Wheeler" persona when he gets behind the wheel of his car.

Mr. Wheeler is a self-centered, inconsiderate, and violent bully who feels he owns the road. When he leaves his vehicle, he reverts to the mild-mannered Mr. Walker, whereupon he is the victim of other motorists' driving habits that mimic those shown by Mr. Wheeler. Mr. Walker makes a very brief cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) as a character reading a newspaper in Toontown.

Animation was done by John Sibley, Charles Nichols, Ed Aardal, and Jack Boyd, with backgrounds by Claude Coats. Story was by Jack Kinney's brother, Dick, and Milt Schaffer. Paul Smith supplied the music.

In this cartoon, Goofy does not have his traditional floppy ears or buck teeth. The official Disney spin is that because he is representing an "everyman" character, he is really not the Goofy from the previous cartoons. In fact, all the characters resemble Goofy.

Actually, the elimination of the ears, which was also done in other later Goofy cartoons, was a money-saving and time-saving necessity as the cost of animated theatrical shorts skyrocketed. Some Disney fans refer to these versions not as Goofy but as "Geef".

To Walt's surprise, after the release of the Motor Mania cartoon, he was contacted by the Oakland (California) Police Department who requested a print to show in their traffic violator's driving school program.

The Disney Company made a 16mm copy of the film and, as soon as word got out, other orders from both schools and police departments came pouring in for copies they could use for training.

This short was awarded the Buyer Trophy for the best film on traffic safety and also ended up in the collection of the U.S. Army for training purposes alongside films devoted to hand grenades, helicopters and hurricanes.

Motor Mania enjoyed such a success that it has been translated into Danish, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese.

Walt had always been interested in starting a division of the company strictly devoted to making educational films. He had been intrigued by the idea after producing many health-oriented films for the U.S. government during World War II and, after the war, producing many commercial films for a variety of corporate clients.

He was also looking for other ways to capitalize on his existing product to help generate more revenue for various other projects.

An official 16mm film division (later renamed Walt Disney Educational Media) was established with Carl Nater in charge in 1945. Nater had been the production coordinator on the military training films and the health films during the war.

Originally, the division rented Disney shorts and features to local schools and organizations for fund raising. Nater also looked at ways to configure existing material for education purposes like releasing in 1955 the "Rite of Spring" segment from Fantasia (1940) with dinosaurs and adding new narration and entitling it A World is Born.

The Jiminy Cricket animated educational segments like "I'm No Fool" from the original Mickey Mouse Club were also released in a similar manner to schools and other organizations.

By the 1960s, the division was making close to a $1 million a year renting and selling films and filmstrips to schools, but to continue to grow, new material needed to be produced.

Motor Mania remained popular but, in 15 years, it had become severely dated not only in its depiction of cars and new safety procedures but also ignoring the Interstate Highway System of freeways that began being built in 1956 and transformed the way Americans drove.


Disney's Freeway Phobia was created as an update to the 1950 short Motor Mania, to teach young people about the dos and don'ts of driving.

The answer was to make an updated version of the cartoon but as with other Disney projects, it continued to expand and expand.

The original production title of Freewayphobia was Freewayphobia No. 1 and that alternate title sometimes appears in listings. Another production started at the same time, titled Freewayphobia No. 2, was also put into production but was later renamed Goofy's Freeway Troubles.

Bill Bosche, who had written several Disney educational projects, and Les Clark, one of Disney's Nine Old Men who was primarily directing educational films toward the end of his Disney career, were assigned to the project.

The unusual length for each of these cartoons at about 14-16 minutes, as I can confirm as a former California public school teacher who had to thread films in to the old Bell and Howell 16mm projectors, is the standard length for an educational film that was offered for rent, although there were a few exceptions.

Teachers realized that if they wanted to fill an entire class period with primarily film, then they had to rent two films with the threading and rewinding time taking up any slack time. Of course, having two roughly 15-minute long films on the same topic was considered a bonus and some speculate the two were meant to be combined together as a half-hour special.

The shorts were released theatrically to help recover some of the cost of production quicker, as well as to establish credibility and value that the cartoons were not just educational films, but had played in movie theaters.

When the shorts were originally released they were classified as "Goofy" shorts, but over the years, they have been re-classified as "Educational", which is one of the reasons neither of them appear on the Walt Disney Treasures Complete Goofy DVD, but Motor Mania does.

In 1965, Walt was presented with the Automobile Club of Southern California's Silver Bowl Award of Merit and a received a lifetime membership. There was a screening of the Goofy cartoon Freewayphobia. The president of AAA remarked, "Walt Disney has the ability to point out our weaknesses and frailties and then teach us how to cope with them while we laugh at ourselves."

For decades they have been available to schools and other organizations through Disney's educational division.

Here are the descriptions of the last two Goofy theatrical shorts from the official Disney pressbooks for these cartoons.

Freeway Phobia

  • Voice Actors: Pinto Colvig, Paul Frees (narrator).
  • Directed By Les Clark.
  • Produced By Walt Disney, Ken Peterson.
  • Animated By Cliff Nordberg, Bob Youngquist, Bob McCrea, Jack Boyd.
  • Layout: Ray Aragon
  • Background: Walt Peregoy, Bill Layne
  • Written By William R. Bosché.
  • Music: George Bruns.
  • Originally Released on February 13, 1965.
  • Running Time: 16 minutes.
  • Production Number: 6501

"From the time America was first settled, roads and trails played an important role in the country's progress. First there was a system of highways, and in recent years, the modern freeway has evolved.

"Freeway driving calls for higher speeds and for driving tactics different from those employed on ordinary roads and streets. If the freeway is used correctly, it can be as much as two and one half times safer than a surface street. Some drivers, however, fail to meet the change.

"One such driver is Driverius Timidicus, a motorist who will not adjust to freeway demands. He slows down or comes to a complete stop when entering the freeway. This cautious habit often has disastrous results for any unsuspecting driver behind Mr. T.

"Once on the freeway, he forges onward at a slow pace, because high speeds make him nervous. This in itself wouldn't be so dangerous if he didn't wander over into the fast lanes while maintaining his slow speed.

"Although Mr. T is a menace to all drivers, the one type he is apt to aggravate the most is Motoramus Fiditus. Mr. F is impatient, excitable, explosive and competitive in nature. He is a habitual lane changer, doing so with no regard for other drivers in other lanes. When Mr. F is hemmed in and it is impossible for him to change lanes, he becomes a horn-honking bumper-rider.

"Mr. F's actions are likely to irritate the most patient of drivers, but not Neglecteur Maximus, a man with his mind on anything and everything…except his driving.

"Max will daydream, study his map, drink coffee, shave, rubberneck and talk to his passengers while driving. He is oblivious of traffic and road signs. If he is about to miss his turnoff because he failed to see the warning signs, he will make quick and dangerous lane changes to get to his exit. Once off the freeway and onto the surface roads, he is apt to forget to readjust his speed to the different driving conditions.

"All three types of drivers are a threat on the freeway and as the star of the film, Goofy advises, "Avoid them if you can…make sure you never become one."

Walt Disney's Goofy's Freeway Troubles

  • Voice Actors: Pinto Colvig, Paul Frees (narrator).
  • Directed By Les Clark.
  • Produced By Walt Disney
  • Associate Producer: Ken Peterson.
  • Animated By Cliff Nordberg, Bob Youngquist, Bob McCrea, Jack Boyd.
  • Layout: Ray Aragon
  • Background: Walt Peregoy, Bill Layne
  • Written By William R. Bosché.
  • Music: George Bruns.
  • Originally Released on September 22, 1965
  • Running Time: 14 minutes.
  • Production Number: 6502
  • Radio ad: "New highway hilarity from the world's Goofy-est driver!"

"Goofy's Freeway Troubles is the cartoon star's 50th short. In the cartoon Motor Mania, he held down two roles (Mr. Walker and Mr. Wheeler). In Freeway Phobia, he topped himself by appearing in three different parts and now in Goofy's Freeway Troubles he has really outdone himself by taking on four distinct characterizations, representing various irresponsible types that careful drivers should stay clear of on the road.

"During the production of the cartoon, Disney had the counsel of professional law enforcement people, highway engineers and driver education specialists."

The freeways are a world unto themselves. They demand their own practical driving rules and they have their own special kinds of problems, usually caused by motorists who ignore these facts.

By way of demonstrating the worst examples of human behavior behind the wheel, Goofy steps into the roles of negligent types like Driverius Timidicus, the timid soul; Neglecterus Maximus, the careless unconscious driver; and the impatient, discourteous motorist, Motoramus Fiditus. Their bad driving habits cause untold accidents and tie-ups.

But there is another type of motorist usually involved in freeway mayhem, the guy who never seems to learn, Stupidicus Ultimas. In a story devoted chiefly to him, Stupidicus avoids simple precautions such as checking his tires and looking after his motor and brakes. If the car runs, he simply drives off without a thought. Once on the freeway, a threadbare tire blows out and in order to salvage it, he stops suddenly in a fast traffic lane and causes a car pile-up.

Stupidicus brings on needless additional trouble by carelessly piling articles in the back of his car where everything can become a dangerous projectile, threatening his life when a sudden stop or crash occurs. He is even worse when it comes to using a trailer. It is considerably overloaded and then tied down poorly, causing the load to be distributed along the freeway.

Stupidicus is also economical to the point of being foolhardy, and carries just enough gasoline for immediate needs without any reserve for possible delays or miscalculations. The result: he becomes stranded on an emergency strip of freeway. And living up to his name, he gets out of his car on the wrong side and winds up losing a door.

Oblivious to traffic conditions, he makes repairs while actually in a busy lane, or in seeking help will bet his life against onrushing cars by trying to dash from the center divider to the far side of the freeway.

Nothing phases Stupidicus. He takes the wheel under any situation and neither fatigue, intoxication or adverse weather conditions will deter him from completing his appointed trip. His type never learns that planning ahead is essential to safe, efficient freeway driving and that there is no substitute for just plain common sense.

 

Comments

  1. By carolinakid

    Jim, I absolutely adore your articles on the Disney films. I'd love to see and would purchase a book of your articles on the Disney features and shorts, much like, but with even more detail, the book Leonard Maltin wrote 40 years ago that I devoured as a kid. Thanks and please keep 'em comin'!

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