Wednesday, August 19, 2015

189. Tomorrow We Diet!

DIRECTOR: Jack Kinney
STORY: Milt Schaffer, Dick Kinney

George Geef (Goofy) finds he has gotten fat when his reflection calls him out on it. He spends the rest of the day trying to put himself on a diet and avoid temptation to eat.

In the 1950s, Disney's short output was diminished as the studio focused on television and reviving its feature division. Mickey Mouse and Pluto saw their last shorts for awhile in the early years of the decade, leaving only Donald Duck and Goofy with regular output. The Goofy series in the 1950s moved almost entirely away from the "how to" or sports series and evolved into a satirical look at the problems of contemporary American domestic life. These cartoons almost exclusively featured Goofy in the role of George Geef, family man ("Geef" being like "Goof" with different vowels).

There are many differences in the Geef years compared to the earlier shorts, and some of the elements from these cartoons eventually made their way into the Goof Troop television series. George sometimes doesn't have the traditional Goofy voice of Pinto Colvig. His design also often makes him look more like a white american, with his body sometimes not being painted black the way it used to be. Sometimes he loses his dog ears for a more humanoid "haircut" look. These design changes are not consistent from short to short, but sometimes I like to think that Geef looks more "human" in the cartoons that focus on very everyday human problems. Then again, it's probably just due to different directors and animators.

"Tomorrow We Diet!" is one such short where Geef looks very human, though cartoonishly fat. There's something a little weird about seeing Goofy fat, since he's always been tall and gangly. This is also one in which George Geef has a different voice than the typical Goofy sound.

The story here seems just as relevant today as it did in 1951. All over the news we hear people bemoaning how obese Americans have become and what we can do about it. This short takes a fun look at the perils of being fat and not wanting to be. I've been fat since I was a kid, so I've always liked this one.

The story opens when Geef's reflection talks back at him. This is a pretty standard cartoon device, but I think it is used nicely here. I always laugh at his opening line, "Hello, Fat!" As the short goes on, they play more with the rules of the reflection and I love that he's just another guy who lives on the other side of the mirror. He stays there even when George isn't home, almost like a roommate. We see him cleaning the mirror as if it were his own window before George walks in.

There is an assortment of broad gags revolving around how fat George is. Making a suit from the awning outside the tailor shop is amusing, and the chairs buckle under him. All these things are typical "make fun of fat people" jokes. But the key to the sequence is the button: George denies he's fat during all of this and only believes it when one of those fortune-teller scales calls him fat. He won't believe people, the world around him, or his own reflection, but as soon as this machine for superstitious amusement says so, he thinks "I must be getting fat!" I think the cartoon gets away with the easier cheap jokes because of that. Besides, there are also other clever visual ideas in the rest of the cartoon, like how he's not "fit as a fiddle", but rather resembles a double bass.

Then we get to the meat of the cartoon (so to speak) with the focus on his fat being due to his overeating. There's a moment when faced with a carrot, he turns into a rabbit. Indeed, I have similar feelings about "rabbit food". The "get the behind me, salami!" is great too. Then we get a look at all the food elements of his home decor. Why do people decorate their homes like this? There are normal elements (a grape motif on a wall sconce, the fish on the wall), then the slightly weird like how his chair has a fruit pattern. Even that is a bit believable, but then we start to get to a point where I'm not sure his house really looks like this or he's just cracking up. That point comes when I see his drapes are a pattern of cold cuts! I like the build-up of these sequence. Also note the magazine he looks through is photo-real. It's not something they do a lot in Disney cartoons (but they do toy with it in the '50s here and there). In this case, it helps to heighten the appeal of food.

One of the most memorable elements of the short, and the one I always remembered as a kid, was the "Eat!" chanting. It begins with this mysterious voice telling George to "eeeeeat!" The vocal is really nice, with just the right amount of reverb. But as it goes on, it becomes this fun almost robotic "beep boop" kind of voice repeating the word in various tones, almost like car horns. Somehow, I always find it hilarious. It's also the perfect audio to match the visual of all the late night signs advertising eateries.

The structure of the second half is reminiscent of Donald Duck cartoons built around the notion of trying to achieve a task and being thwarted. Here, the task is to avoid eating. The resolution is a nice button on the clever notion of the reflection living in his own world: he actually eats all the food himself! It's one of those beautiful illogical ideas that only works in cartoons. And the episode closes with the familiar Goofy laugh, even though up to this point neither Geef nor his reflection has sounded anything like Goofy.

Viewed through modern eyes, the cartoon could be said to have two problems. One could argue it promotes anorexia, by arguing you should just stop eating. But people should understand this is a cartoon and is being broad to make a point in a short amount of time. I think if this one were made today, it would also be accused of fat-shaming or downright bullying. The reflection constantly refers to George as "fat" or by some other mean nickname. He almost seems to get perverse pleasure out of making George touch his toes and acknowledge his problem. Again, it's a cartoon and I think it gets away with it. I think at its core, it's not picking on all fat people, but addressing this specific person who used to be fit but has problems now through gross overeating. This is not to say everyone is fat because they eat too much. But it was an attempt to shine a light on Americans overdoing it in their diet, because food is awesome. There really isn't even exactly a resolution to the issue; just that the reflection guy is going to prevent George from eating. This cartoon was part of a series of these that focused on the addictions of middle class Americans (other cartoons were made about smoking and gambling). So in this case, focusing on an addiction to food, the intent wasn't to shame fat people into eating disorders, but to shine a light on habit-breaking. It's still relevant today, even if its tactics.

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